TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (BP)–Southern Baptists from across the nation have been quick to respond to victims of a string of deadly tornadoes that ripped through Alabama over the weekend, killing 12 people, injuring dozens, and damaging more than 400 homes and businesses.
At least five of those killed either belonged to, or were affiliated with Southern Baptist churches in Alabama and three Baptist churches in the west Alabama town of Etowah were heavily damaged.
Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, expressed condolences to the victims of the Alabama tornadoes.
“I offer my prayer of comfort and relief to those who have been personally hurt in this tragedy,” Chapman said. “I also offer my encouragement to rely on the strength of our Lord to survive and even to seek victory in this tragedy.”
Rick Lance, executive director-treasurer of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said the state convention will be actively involved in disaster relief efforts.
“We are awaiting word as to when we are to act,” he said. “Meanwhile, we ask that people pray for families who lost loved ones and for all the families affected by the tornado.
Gil McKee, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, told Baptist Press his congregation was hard-hit by the storm. Five of those killed in the storm had direct connections with the church and at least 30 church families lost their homes.
“We have three families who have lost loved ones and we’re still trying to get a solid number of families in our church who have lost their homes,” he said.
Within minutes of the tornado, McKee said the staff of the 5,000-member church was deployed to minister in the midst of the chaos.
“My first action was to check on our church families and we sent our pastoral staff to the hospital as being were being brought there,” he said.
The church is also ministering to the community at large. McKee said the church has organized and dispatched clean-up crews into the community, many of whom have been working since the weekend.
Tuscaloosa’s Valley View Baptist Church was turned into a medical triage unit during the moments immediately following the storm, according to senior pastor Mike Hall.
“We are located across the highway from the most heavily damaged area and it turned out we were the only facility that had backup power generators,” Hall told Baptist Press. “We had 50 to 70 medical personnel working in the church to help the injured.”
Hall said church members showed up en masse to help prepare food, clothing, and bedding for the hundreds of victims.
“I would say that there were several hundred people coming in and out of the church building throughout the day,” he said. “We were literally flying by the seat of our pants. It’s really interesting to see how the Lord gave us direction and kept things running smoothly.”
Hall said that area businesses and restaurants also contributed to the disaster relief efforts. Later in the week, the church’s gymnasium will be turned into a warehouse for donations to storm victims.
Hall, McKee, and other church pastors in the area, said many of their church families suffered loss in the twister.
Three churches in east Alabama were heavily damaged, according to Bob Thornton, a spokesman for the Etowah Baptist Association. Macedonia Baptist Church, Union Baptist Church No. 3 and Mount Olive Baptist Church reported extensive damage.
Don Hartley, the public information officer for Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency, told CNN that the storm killed 12 people, while an additional two are missing.
Six people were killed when the tornado hit the Bear Creek Trailer Park south of Tuscaloosa, Hartley said. One person was found dead on an area road, and one died in the emergency room at a local hospital. Two other people were killed, he said, but details were not available.
The two missing people are an 18-month-old child and a 16-year-old girl. “We are still searching for them,” Hartley said. “We’re treating them as missing.”
Another 31 people were being treated at a Tuscaloosa hospital, Hartley said.
Scott Adcock, a spokesman for the state emergency operations office, said Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman had declared a state of emergency and mobilized troops from the National Guard to help in Tuscaloosa County “to assist with traffic control and … support local law enforcement.”
“We need to get the road systems opened up so that emergency vehicles can pass and get to those who need assistance,” Adcock said.
Earlier Saturday morning at least 10 people were injured when a tornado hit the town of Geneva, Alabama, located near the Florida-Alabama border.
“It took a narrow path and it was very damaging, two or three blocks along,” said Geneva Mayor Warren Beck. “It started in our southwest corner of town and just took a path and then all of a sudden it turned. (It) continued on northeast through our city, and most of our city damage was to our downtown area where we had a lot of residential homes.”
Approximately 10,000 homes were left without power in wake of the tornado. Don Hartley with the Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency said at least 125 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by the tornado.
He said authorities watched from afar as the storm hit the city. “We saw it on our fiber optics camera,” Hartley said. “We have a number of them throughout the county, and you could see it at several intersections making its way into the city.”
Persons wishing to donate money to the victims may send their contributions to the Alabama State Board of Missions, P.O. Box 11870, Montgomery, Ala. 36111-0870. All contributions should be marked for disaster relief.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: RESCUING A VICTIM.