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Ala. town hit hard by tornado

PRATTVILLE, Ala. (BP)–More than 200 homes and a business district in Prattville, Ala., a suburb of Montgomery, were damaged by a tornado Feb. 17, marking another string of turbulent weather across the Southeast that sent Southern Baptist disaster relief officials into assessment mode.

No deaths were reported, but the Montgomery Advertiser said two people in Prattville were seriously injured and 25 residents had minor injuries like cuts and bruises.

The Alabama Baptist newspaper said four teams of Southern Baptist chaplains were going door to door to assess spiritual needs, and damage assessment teams were headed out Monday afternoon. A chainsaw team from the Autauga Baptist Association already was at work Monday morning, officials said. The newspaper had not encountered any news of Southern Baptist churches damaged by the reported nine tornadoes that hit the state Sunday afternoon.

Prattmont Baptist Church started feeding emergency personnel and volunteers Sunday evening, and Camellia Baptist Church in Prattville was to begin feeding victims on Monday as needed, The Alabama Baptist reported. A childcare team was on standby.

The office of associational missions and church planting at the Alabama State Board of Missions is receiving e-mails from other associations regarding damage around the state, and those needs will be assessed as they come in, The Alabama Baptist said.

Jason Wright, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham, called the weather event “one of the most significant outbreaks in central Alabama in the past two or three years,” according to the Advertiser.

In one Prattville subdivision alone, more than 20 homes were destroyed and three were heavily damaged, the newspaper said. A resident of the neighborhood told the Advertiser it was “something out of my worst nightmare.” On at least one street, almost all the homes were removed from their foundations by the storm.

Jim Byard, Prattville’s mayor, took a helicopter tour of the city within a couple hours of the tornado and said the damage was bad but could have been worse.

“The storm went right through the heart of our retail district,” Byard said. “This area is also one of the most heavily populated in the city.”

At the local Wal-Mart, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s press secretary was heading out of the store when a man told her to run for cover. Seconds after she ducked down in the women’s clothing section, she heard the ripping and crunching sounds of the storm hitting the store’s roof, tearing the light fixtures out of the ceiling.

Other Wal-Mart patrons had sought refuge in the dressing rooms at the center of the store as strong winds shattered the glass doors at the front. When Riley’s press secretary returned to her car in the parking lot after the storm, all four windows had been smashed and a piece of plywood was inside, the Advertiser reported.

“I’m so happy that I didn’t go outside when that man said, ‘Run,'” Tara Hutchinson, the press secretary, said. “It all happened in about two minutes. It was terrifying.”

The Advertiser reported that more than 10,000 homes and businesses were initially without power after the storm but more than half of those were restored within six hours. A community-wide curfew was put into effect at sundown Sunday, and officials said they’ll keep it in place until power is fully restored and debris is cleared from roads. Officials expect recovery to take at least a week, according to the newspaper.

Shelters were set up at Prattville’s community center and at First United Methodist Church.

The same storm swept across Georgia and the Florida Panhandle, destroying four homes in Escambia County, Fla., and injuring eight people in Crawford County, Ga., the Associated Press said.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach with reporting by Jennifer Davis Rash of The Alabama Baptist.

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