Protecting Responders after Floodwaters Inundate Oklahoma School, Surrounding Community

Local pharmacist works to protect those beginning clean-up, some of whom have lost everything.

When Bryon Glover pulled up to a partially submerged school near Fort Smith, Arkansas, he realized he’d never seen anything like the flood waters that filled the school’s classrooms.

A school gym in eastern Oklahoma was just one of many buildings flooded by ongoing rains in the region, which have displaced thousands. (Photo courtesy of Stigler Health and Wellness Center/Direct Relief)

“It was rough to see,” said Glover, who is the pharmacy director for Hoover Drug, a charitable pharmacy that’s part of the Stigler Health & Wellness Center. The organization serves uninsured and low income patients, many of whom are living in flooded areas of eastern Oklahoma.

The record-breaking late May floods killed one man in Arkansas and sent about eight feet of water inside local schools around Fort Smith, and also into eastern Oklahoma. The waters destroyed desks and other equipment, but also things that will prove harder to replace.

The destruction was amplified because teachers and administrators had only prepared for about three feet of water, placing chairs and other materials on top of desks or nearby shelves.

Beyond the devastation of losing work and mementos at the school, hundreds of homes were impacted. As the community began to recover, other health concerns arose, especially for those who led the charge to clean up.

Classrooms in an eastern Oklahoma school district were inundated with floodwater, concerning local health officials. (Photo courtesy of Stigler Health and Wellness/Direct Relief)

“Given the conditions that they were in, there was a lot of debris, lots to clean up, and the chance of getting cut and an infection was pretty high—tree limbs, water, you name it, was in the facility,” Glover said.

Tetanus was his main concern, and people cleaning up from storm damage are particularly at risk of the bacterial illness, which can be transmitted through a cut or wound.

“[Tetanus] is pretty serious, it can be life threatening,” Glover said.

That’s why, for the first time, he and his team set out on the road to offer vaccinations on-site, in partnership with the Moffett and Roland school districts in eastern Oklahoma, administering over 125 Tdap shots, which protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

The vaccines were needed since many people involved with the clean-up couldn’t remember when they last received the shot, or were coming up on the 10-year limit for effectiveness. The shipment of vaccines, donated by Sanofi, along with protective gear, was the latest in a series of medical aid sent to the health center since flooding began in May.

“Some of these teachers lost their life’s work. Their lessons plans and prep materials were totally destroyed. They were pretty heartbroken about it,” Glover said.

Direct Relief staff load insulin bound for the Stigler Health and Wellness Center after flooding inundated the area in May, 2019. The organization has continued to support the health center as they serve their community. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)

Health center staff worked to provide evacuated patients with Direct Relief-donated insulin, over-the-counter medications, hygiene products for evacuees and 10 Emergency Medical Backpacks, filled with essential first aid items for medical outreach.

Purchasing the tetanus vaccines would have been an unplanned expense for the health center, so Glover turned to Direct Relief, which was able to ship the requested vaccines, along with other safety gear needed for the clean-up, like masks and protective suits.

In addition to the school, Glover also distributed vaccines at three other sites in the area.

Pharmacist Bryon Glover packs hygiene items and protective gear for delivery into flood-impacted communities in eastern Oklahoma. Glover and others worked to vaccinate more than 100 people against tetanus so they’d be protected during clean-up efforts. (Photo courtesy of Stigler Health and Wellness/Direct Relief)

“It was very fulfilling. We got to talk to the people who were directly effected, people who had lost everything, their houses. They were trying to salvage everything they could get. The flood came very quickly and the water… they had little to no time to get any of their possessions out,” Glover said.

“It was a scary thing to see, to know that this could happen to these people,” he said.

With the tragedy, Glover said he saw a silver lining. Community organizations and businesses have stepped up to provide food, cash support and other donations to help people get back on their feet.

“What this community donated was outrageous and it shows people can get the help they need. People are there to care for them.”


By Noah Smith