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Associational leader says ‘forgotten’ Alabama community needs assistance after tragedy, storm

Volunteers with Team Rubicon tarp a roof in Camp Hill. Photo courtesy of Warren Tidwell

CAMP HILL, Ala. (BP) – James Smith had just heard about the mass shooting in Dadeville that killed four and injured 32 in mid-April when he called Tallapoosa County’s Emergency Management Agency director to see how he could help.

“I called him about the shootings, but he said he’d just gotten through working over at Camp Hill,” said Smith, director of missions for Tallapoosa Baptist Association and an Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief chaplain. “That got my ears up.”

It wasn’t long before Smith had had more conversations and gone for a drive through nearby Camp Hill, a community of about 1,000 people just five miles from Dadeville. On March 26, the town got hit hard by softball-sized hail that rained down for 15 to 20 minutes. More than 400 houses were damaged.

‘Little war zone’

“It’s like a little war zone when you look and see all the blue tarps,” Smith said.

One of the people he talked to there was Warren Tidwell, Camp Hill’s community resilience coordinator, who has been working almost nonstop to get aid for the town ever since the storm.

Tidwell said 80-90 percent of the vehicles in Camp Hill were totaled, which affects residents’ ability to drive to work or to a grocery store or pharmacy, neither of which they have locally.

Not only that, in the coming months “half this town is going to be uninhabitable” because of roof damage plus mold, Tidwell said. “We’ve got 85-year-old seniors living alone; they can’t mitigate mold in houses with 12-foot ceilings.”

Compound hurt

The situation is dire, he said. Though the unemployment rate in town is low — much of the town works in automotive industrial supply — 60 percent of Camp Hill is below the poverty line. Residents can’t afford to put new roofs on homes, Tidwell said.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the town has other kinds of hurt happening at the same time — many of those affected by the shooting are from Camp Hill, Tidwell said. “We’ve got one family displaced by the hailstorm whose kid was paralyzed in the shooting” three weeks later.

Smith said his “heart goes out” to the community, as they’ve been “kind of forgotten” and lost in the coverage of everything else that’s been happening.

Churches stepping in

He was glad to see that help is beginning to trickle in from Baptist churches in the area as they’ve heard about the need. As Team Rubicon arrived in April to help with tarping roofs, Smith put out the call for congregations to help feed and support them. Eighteen churches responded.

“It was a good cooperation among our churches around Dadeville to give of themselves at this tough time,” he said.

The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions has also provided some wood and nails through its disaster relief fund, but skilled roofers are needed to install them because of the steep pitch of the roofs on the town’s historic homes.

More help needed

Smith said having a double tragedy has been tough for the area, but he prays that good comes from it.

“I’m just praying it will be a spiritual epiphany for folks to think more about eternity and what God has done through Christ and the cross,” he said.

Tidwell said he hopes churches or individuals might start stepping in to “adopt” a homeowner and replace a roof.

“We’ve had grown men working here (on this project) and crying as they’ve seen how bad it is,” Tidwell said. “These are warm and welcoming folks, and they are worthy of help.”

This article originally appeared in The Alabama Baptist.

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