Drought prompts prayers

Monday, September 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating urged residents Sunday to pray for rain for their drought-stricken state, but southern Oklahoma farmers like Steve Nunley have sought divine intervention for their withered crops for several years now.

"It's been pretty devastating on us, especially by this not being the first year it's happened," said Mr. Nunley, who grows peanuts and wheat in Stephens County. "Two years ago, 1998, was an extremely dry year, and in 1999, parts of it were dry, so that makes it a three-years-in-a-row deal."

All across Oklahoma, congregations heeded Mr. Keating's request, praying not only for relief for farmers in their areas but for all the problems caused by the excessive heat and drought.

"We're in desperate need of the replenishment, of the refreshment that comes from rain," Gary Ellis, an elder at the Oakcrest Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, said at a prayer luncheon. "We ask that you would cause the atmosphere to change the conditions that would bring us the much-needed rain, not only for the farmers but also for the refreshment of the earth."

A pattern of heat at or exceeding 100 degrees settled across much of Oklahoma and Texas in mid-July and didn't break until last week. The excessive heat and resulting dryness have damaged or destroyed crops of peanuts, corn, cotton, hay, grain, sorghum and soybeans.

In San Antonio, the month of heat and no rain are sending cracks creeping through residents' house foundations.

With only one-half inch of rain since 7.61 inches fell in June – double the normal amount – the heat and lack of rain are taking a toll.

"We're getting into one of the worst situations I've seen in 15 years," Bill Gregson, president of Alamo Hy-Tech Foundation Inc., is quoted as saying in Sunday editions of the San Antonio Express-News.

Mr. Gregson and other foundation-repair experts said they have backlogs of two to three months.

One of the unfortunates on the list is 80-year-old James Voigt.

Dry spells usually cause his foundation to shift just enough to make some doors in his home stick, Mr. Voigt said, but "now it's beginning to crack up the house."

Aside from looking at a 2-foot-long crack in his kitchen wall, Mr. Voigt also is looking at a $9,108 bill to shore up his foundation with 22 piers sunk to bedrock level.

Signs of a foundation in trouble are cracks in the foundation exterior or brick mortar, interior cracking, sticking doors and bricks pulling away from the wall near windows and garage doors.

In extreme situations the shrinking soil will twist a foundation, causing leaks or breaking water or sewer pipes in or beneath the slab. Foundation repairs with burst pipes could exceed $20,000.

In the face of tightening water restrictions in the city, some residents have decided to save their homes rather than lawns.

"My lawn is gone. I'm not going to water it," said Tony Gonzales, an engineer at SA Engineering Co. and former board member on the Guadalupe County Municipal Utility District 1, which oversees water issues in the unincorporated area.

"You can't use up all the aquifer," Mr. Miller said, referring to the fast-diminishing Edwards Aquifer from which many South Texas water supplies are drawn.

Experts say unless there already is severe cracking in the foundation, it may not be too late to start a water-soaking regimen and keep it up in drought conditions.

In Oklahoma, seven of the state's 77 counties have been designated agriculture disaster areas, and Mr. Keating has asked Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman for the same designation for the other 70 counties.

Some rain soon could help Mr. Nunley salvage his peanut crop, which usually yields 3,000 to 4,000 pounds an acre. It also could help his cattle and the planting of his wheat crop, which is going in the ground now.

"It's something we're very concerned about because it's going in the ground dry. It will kill the crop if we don't get enough [rain] to establish the root system," he said.

In Kingston near the Oklahoma-Texas border, the Rev. Jerrell Heath, senior minister of the United Methodist Church, said members of the congregation have been asking for rain throughout the week.

"I have spent several hours in conversation with one particular family who have cattle and the hay crop is gone. There is no hay this year," Mr. Heath said.

Harvey Friedel, interim pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Altus, said things aren't as bad in Jackson County as they are in places to the east, but church members have been praying for rain nonetheless.

"Most of the folks and others in agriculture that live in this area are accustomed to having some dry times," Mr. Friedel said. "This one is a very tough time, but most folks pretty much put it in their long-term planning."

At First Baptist Church in Frederick in Tillman County, the Rev. Charles Wyatt said he did not preach about the lack of rain but set aside a portion of the service to specifically pray for rain.

"We always pray for a spiritual rain as the greatest need as well as the physical rain," Mr. Wyatt said.

"We prayed not only for the county, but the whole area where there is drought and for the cities running out of water and for the forests being burned."