A crane holds a large American flag near intersection of Mission and Line Streets as a symbol for the community spirit that happened after the tornadoes struck Sapulpa Memorial Day Weekend.

SAPULPA STRONG: Sapulpa’s resilience and community spirit shines through after the city is rocked by two tornadoes

Sapulpa is unique in that it's a community of people helping its own before they'll even start looking for help from the outside.

Shortly after midnight on Sunday, May 26th, Sapulpa was struck by two EF-1 tornadoes. In the following early-morning hours, Sapulpa Times staff was out surveying the damage, taking photos and doing live video feeds.

The amount of damage was staggering. I was nearly ten when the May 5, 1960 tornado devastated Sapulpa. Sunday’s tornado was the most damaging in 59 years.

What stood out in this reporter’s mind was the immediate response by first responders and neighbors helping neighbors. Once the tornado had gone over our house and left its trail of destruction in our neighborhood, our neighbors filed over to see if we were ok.

Residents of a Sapulpa home work to remove debris from the roof. Photo by Mark Robinson

Everywhere we went that morning, someone was helping someone else. Police, Fire, Sheriff’s Department, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, City of Sapulpa workers, and citizens were out doing their part to help mitigate the damage. Davis Family Arbor Services was out in the wee hours, doing chop-and-drops (cutting up the trees so they could be picked up).

Later that day, a group from Solace Church surveyed our damage and said they would cut up the massive oak tree laying in our yard that fell victim to the storm. With chainsaws, they began cutting the tree up and raking the yard as they went. The next day, they finished the job with a small backhoe, arranging the wood in stacks in the front yard. Lowe’s left us a bucket containing paper towels, two pairs of work gloves, insect repellent, bottled water, and large contractors bags.

Cindy Lawrence of Sapulpa Main Street organized a clean up of downtown Sapulpa, Sunday afternoon. Approximately 40 volunteers, including volunteers from Guts Church, helped in the effort. By the time they were through, downtown looked almost normal.

OG&E was out within hours restoring power, which was a gargantuan task due to the number of damaged power poles, transmission poles, and downed power lines. At one point they had contractors from several states and all over Oklahoma, working in Sapulpa to restore our electrical service.

On Tuesday, the City of Sapulpa held a press conference announcing they had declared a “State of Emergency” for Sapulpa, allowing them to use City resources for private property. Wednesday morning, a city crew in a dump truck and backhoe were removing the debris from our yard. Thursday, Red Cross and the Salvation Army were roving the neighborhoods, passing out snacks and water.

Related: City of Sapulpa officially announces State of Emergency

The Sapulpa Police Department was inundated with donations of food and snacks for first responders. The Salvation Army offered meals at its headquarters on South Hickory. Caring Community Friends offered emergency food kits for people who had lost power. Boss Hawg BBQ gave free meals to first responders and anyone who needed food.

With all the negatives comments on social media about our city, it is heartwarming to see the outpouring of love, compassion, service to one another. Sapulpa has endured devastation before and has always rebuilt, thanks to the sense of community in our town.


About the Author

Long-time Sapulpa resident, Charles Betzler, followed his father, Charlie, into the radio and TV repair business. At age 9, he fixed his first broken radio and his first love is vintage audio equipment. In his 50 + years of technical work, graduation from OSUIT, and years of Continuing Education, Charles, in his capacity as Emergency Management Director of nearby city, designed the Emergency Operations Center, and the radio-activation system for the sirens. In his long career, he has repaired every type of consumer electronics from black-and-white TVs to the latest lap-top.

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