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Alabama pastor grateful for helpers after his ninth tornado

TIBBIE, Ala. (BP) – Pastor Jamie Lay said he thought the weather had finally calmed down enough for him to go to bed in the early morning hours of Nov. 30.

“I had just laid down, and my phone went off,” he said. “I saw the tornado was in Wayne County, Mississippi, and coming directly this way, so I got my family up and got in the bathroom.”

Lay, pastor of Howardtown Baptist Church in Tibbie, had weathered eight tornados in the past, and he was about to meet his ninth. As his family huddled together, the bathroom doors started shaking, then the whole house, and they heard the storm roaring outside like a train.

“I asked them, ‘Are you sure you’re right with the Lord? Because this might be it.’ It was a scary night, no doubt about it,” Lay said.

Damage at the church

Amazingly, their house didn’t have any damage. But Howardtown Baptist just across the street didn’t fare quite as well. As Lay went over to check things out, he saw the columns on the front porch had moved and the roof had been peeled back on the sanctuary and torn off on the Sunday School wing. The stained-glass windows on the east side of the building had shattered, and the sanctuary was filled with glass and water.

“The carpet in there is probably a total loss, between the water and the glass,” Lay said.

A shed outside that they used for community ministry was also likely totaled.

Helping those in need

But within 15 minutes of his viewing of the damage, help began rolling in – chainsaws, and then more chainsaws. They got the trees out of the road and helped with cleanup, and soon plans were in place for removing the pews and tearing out carpet.

“Woody Baughn, the pastor at Tibbie Baptist, and Larry Darden, the pastor at Fairhope Baptist, were the first two to call,” Lay said. “This community here is special. It’s really special to see the way everybody comes together to help, no questions asked. It’s just a blessing. Everybody’s tired, but [they] keep on going.”

Since the storms, the Red Cross has been set up at Tibbie Baptist serving three meals a day. Volunteers from all over the Southeast have called and offered assistance, Lay said.

Teams hard at work

To the northeast, two other disaster relief teams – Elmore Baptist Association and Montgomery Baptist Association have been hard at work after tornados hit their counties as well. North of Montgomery in the hard-hit Flatwood community, a mother and son were killed when a tree fell on their mobile home during an EF-2 tornado.

And in Elmore County, numerous residents had damage to their homes and property, according to Frank Autery, who leads the Elmore Association disaster relief team.

“We had a tornado that came through the Wetumpka area, and it also came down over here in Tallassee,” he said.

His team of more than 10 volunteers has worked more than a dozen job requests since the storms hit, with the help of 160 local high school students who came to help drag limbs and debris to the road.

Continuing to work

“We would cut the limbs off, and they would pull those smaller branches to the road for us,” Autery said.

His team continues to be available for job requests in their area, as well as to help in other areas as needed, he said.

Mark Wakefield, state disaster relief strategist, said the system operates well when disasters like this hit, with teams mobilizing quickly in their areas and communicating with others as they need help.

“They work hard, and that’s a blessing for many,” he said.

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  • Grace Thornton/The Alabama Baptist