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Doors open for Tenn., Ark. tornado victims

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptists in Arkansas and Tennessee reached out to help families whose lives were upended by tornadoes that wreaked havoc in the region April 9 and 10.

In Arkansas, Dallas Avenue Baptist Church of Mena opened its doors to serve as a shelter for storm victims after a funnel cloud with 136 mph winds tore a 14.5-mile path through the city of 5,700 in the Ouachita Mountains on April 9. Three people died, 30 were injured and an estimated 1,000 homes were destroyed or damaged there.

Emotions ran high during Easter services at First Baptist Church attended by many whose homes were in the storm’s path. Church member Sherry Baker was overcome with tears as she recalled the scene.

“Yesterday’s services were very emotional,” Baker said. “So many lost their homes but their faith is strong. It was so moving to see the faith of those who lost their homes…. So many people have come to help our city.”

The façade of First Baptist’s sanctuary was torn off and its parsonage damaged, reported Craig Chambers, director of missions for the Ouachita Baptist Association. The storm destroyed several buildings in Mena’s industrial park and also damaged a community college and the county courthouse.

“Our downtown area took a devastating hit,” Chambers said. “Most of the businesses in downtown are flattened or heavily damaged. Roofs have been ripped off, every awning has been torn off and there is glass everywhere.”

By early light April 10, disaster relief volunteers were assessing damage in Mena and other storm-damaged areas of Arkansas. Later that day, Arkansas Baptist feeding and chainsaw recovery teams and a disaster relief chaplain arrived on site. As of Monday noon, 5,675 meals had been served.

In Tennessee, Gov. Phil Bredesen and other officials toured Murfreesboro, where at least three tornadoes touched down in the city of 100,000 southeast of Nashville. The storm killed one young woman and her 9-week-old daughter and destroyed dozens of homes and businesses as it cut a swath 15 miles long and up to a half-mile wide, according to news reports.

New Vision Baptist Church in Murfreesboro volunteered its facilities as a Red Cross shelter, said Ross Smith, the congregation’s business administrator. Several people stayed the night at the church on Friday and Saturday and about 23 storm victims came to the shelter on Saturday for meals and help. Hundreds of church members volunteered to help storm victims, Smith added. Some members helped house church families who were displaced by the storm, while others helped families clear and pack personal items left at their damaged homes. About 10 church families were affected by the storm.

New Vision had planned to hold its two Easter services offsite at an area hotel so the church facility was available to serve as a shelter, Smith noted. He said he was glad the congregation was able to help people “in their present condition” as a witness that the church is not just interested in the spiritual needs of people.

The same weather system that spawned the tornadoes in Mena and Murfreesboro also caused funnel clouds in Kentucky and Alabama. In northern Georgia, trees and power lines were downed as heavy rain, hail and winds ripped across the state.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly, with reporting from Connie Bushey of the Tennessee Baptist & Reflector (tnbaptist.org) and Stella Prather of the Arkansas Baptist News (arkansasbaptist.org).

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