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Ga. Baptists begin relief work after deadly night of twisters

CAMILLA, Ga. (BP)–The executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention asked for Southern Baptists throughout the nation to pray for the victims of the killer tornadoes that hit southwest Georgia and left 22 people dead and more than 100 injured on Feb. 14.

“I have spoken with our disaster relief teams and they tell me that the area is completely devastated,” said J. Robert White, executive director of the convention. “The primary damage is in the Camilla area but we have teams working throughout the southwestern part of the state.”

At least one Baptist church, Macedonia Baptist Church in Grady County, sustained major structural damage in the storm. The steeple and the front porch were blown away, according to a church spokesperson.

“We will be providing assistance to any churches that may have sustained damage,” White said. “And our Baptist builders will be actively involved in doing rebuilding work.”

White said he was in contact with Jim Richardson, director of Georgia Baptist disaster relief, and they are expecting more Baptist volunteers to assist with the cleanup efforts.

The team has already set up a command post at First Baptist Church, Camilla, that includes a communications unit, cleanup and feeding units and a childcare unit.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do down here,” Richardson said.

Harris Malcolm, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Camilla, escaped injury, along with his family, when the tornado destroyed their house.

“Even though his own home was destroyed, we had reports that Harris was out in the field helping church members who lost their homes,” White said.

Another Georgia Baptist family suffered an even greater tragedy. Todd Harrell, 32, director of the children’s ministry at Pine Level Baptist Church, lost his wife and eight-month-old daughter.

Ron McCaskill, pastor of First Baptist Church, Cairo, said Harrell was a strong Christian young man who was raised in the church. His mother, Annette Harrell, was the past WMU president at Cairo.

According to McCaskill, Harrell was trying to get his family to safety just moments before the early-morning tornado hit their trailer. “Todd opened the door and he was literally sucked out of the trailer,” McCaskill said. “The trailer exploded and he was carried into the air.”

Harrell was taken to a local hospital where he had emergency surgery. He was reportedly in good condition on Feb. 15, McCaskill said.

His wife, Shannon, and their baby, Kylie Rae, died in the storm.

The story of Harrell and his family has been circulated by national news services, including the Associated Press.

McCaskill said the storm left behind plenty of damage, but hope remains. “We are very grateful to be alive,” he said. “The important thing is to live each day like it was your last day. We had people of all ages die last night. It’s a hard thing. But we have to put lives back together, bury the dead and find a way to begin again.”

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  • Todd Starnes