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Cleanup crews tackle devastation ‘worse than I have ever seen’

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (BP)–The piercing roar of a chainsaw is typically nothing more than loud racket to most people. But to those who suffered horrific devastation from the tornadoes that ripped through Alabama, the sound couldn’t be sweeter when coming from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams aiding in needed cleanup efforts.

Pulling into storm-ravaged areas, these caravans of cleanup and recovery volunteers arrive eager to help. Sporting bright yellow disaster relief T-shirts, they bring with them loads of their own heavy equipment packed into trailers and trucks.

These particular crews work alongside other emergency personnel to aid communities during the aftermath of mass destruction as first responders in the rebuilding process.

Each team usually entails 10 to 12 volunteers from a particular Baptist church or association dispatched through the state organization.

Ron Warren serves as state coordinator of cleanup, recovery and chainsaw for Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief.

The crews labor fervently, up to 10 or 12 hours a day, by assisting in cleanup duties that include cutting downed trees and heavy limbs and removing debris from yards.

“It’s pretty intensive work,” said Larry Teel, director of the Rapid Response Assessment Team and command center team leader in Tuscaloosa.

With wind speeds estimated by the National Weather Service of more than 200 mph in some areas April 27, entire neighborhoods were left with hardly a tree standing.

Generally half of a team’s members are trained in chainsaw safety, Teel said; the others work to remove fallen or cut tree limbs from the property they are serving.

“All the people on the team are trained in cleanup/recovery and a limited number are trained in chainsaw safety,” he said.

Alabama Baptists began an initial drive-through assessment in Tuscaloosa April 28, the day after the storms hit, to determine how extensive the damage was. By the next morning, teams were on the ground working with chainsaws, removing debris and cutting trees that had landed on residents’ houses, cars and driveways.

“I’ve been involved in disaster relief since 1979…. I’ve not seen devastation as concentrated as this was, as severe as it was,” Teel said. “The devastation in the impact area is worse than I have ever seen. It is just unreal. It’s going to be a real long-term recovery, even from our aspect of getting trees removed from properties.”

Five teams were on the ground in the Tuscaloosa area with 70 to 80 volunteers assisting in cleanup and recovery efforts. Teel said they continue to pick up new jobs every day and had completed more than 60 jobs.

Cottondale Baptist Church, part of the Tuscaloosa Baptist Association, has been the team’s host church, feeding and housing the disaster relief workers.

More than 40 other cleanup and recovery teams were serving in nine other areas across the state.

Tom Cole, leader of the Manatee Southern Baptist Association disaster relief cleanup and recovery team from Florida, traveled with his team to serve in Jasper. They arrived May 2 and began work the next morning. Cole said the most rewarding aspect of serving on a cleanup team is the help, healing and hope they can help provide storm victims.

Helping people secure their homes and clear debris and helping them heal by listening to what they’ve been through are extremely important, Cole said.

“But the most important thing is the hope, and the hope that we can bring the salvation of Jesus Christ to their lives.”

Teel asked Southern Baptists to pray for the teams.

“We need prayer for safety [physical and emotional],” he said.

Training is required for those interested in joining disaster relief teams, and specific training pertaining to chainsaw safety is offered through various state conventions. [Contact your state convention for more information.] Those who pass the course receive a chainsaw patch to be worn on the right sleeve.
Julie Moore is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist. To view the latest e-edition of the newspaper, visit online.thealabamabaptist.org. For additional information and details on upcoming chainsaw training courses, visit www.sbdr.org.

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  • Julie Moore