WARTBURG, Tenn. (BP)–Stunned residents across the South and Great Lakes region are struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives in the wake of a storm system that spawned dozens of killer tornadoes. Officials say at least 36 people were killed and hundreds injured in the severe storms.
Homes, schools, churches and businesses were flattened from Alabama to Ohio after more than 70 tornadoes touched down.
Most of those killed were in Tennessee, where 17 people died; 12 died in Alabama, five in Ohio, one in Pennsylvania and one in Mississippi.
Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief units were activated across the state where damage spread from one end of the state to another.
In Jackson, Tenn., Union University was heavily damaged by a tornado with 110 mph winds. No injuries were reported.
Volunteer cleanup teams from the TBC were dispatched to assist at Union and other areas hit by the storms.
One of the hardest-hit communities was Mossy Grove in northeastern Tennessee, where a tornado cut a swath about a mile wide and a mile long, killing seven people in the Appalachian town and in surrounding Morgan County.
One of the town’s residents remained unaccounted for Nov. 12, according to Tommy Kilby, Morgan County’s chief executive.
“There was a tremendous amount of damage,” Kilby told Baptist Press. “It was most devastating. But our community has a tremendous amount of faith and love for our neighbors.”
On the wet grass on a rural road lay a television remote control, a hymnal and family photographs.
Four of the dead in Morgan County were in a car trying to outrun the storm when the tornado tossed their vehicle. Another was a volunteer firefighter who rushed to a scene and had a heart attack.
The storm hit during Nov. 10 services at the New Life Apostolic Church in Mossy Grove, badly damaging the church. The storm partially collapsed the building’s roof and shattered glass, sending church members scrambling under pews for safety. No one in the church was injured.
David Gunther told CNN he grabbed his 3-year-old daughter, jumped under a pew and started praying.
“When you have a child, you just want to protect them. That was my first instinct,” he told CNN. “We got in the doors just in time.”
“We were just praying like we had never prayed before,” another congregation member, Kevin Davis, said. “God kept his hand on us.”
David Acres, director of missions for the Big Emory Baptist Association in Morgan County, told Baptist Press the support from the Christian community has been staggering.
“I’ve been fielding calls from directors of missions across the state,” he said. “And even our local Baptists have been out front leading the way in serving others.”
Alabama officials credited early warnings and watches for saving lives in their state. Still, the storms left 12 people dead — 10 of them in Walker County, northwest of Birmingham.
“It’s like somebody wrapped up sticks of dynamite and just blew these homes into little tiny pieces,” said Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on a tour of Walker County.
“This was a huge, devastating impact for the state of Alabama,” Siegelman said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help get their lives, and their homes, and their businesses back together.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: LIVE FROM MOSSY GROVE and MOSSY GROVE GRIEVES.