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Ind. church shelters 200 during Henryville tornado; feeding, chainsaw work under way

HENRYVILLE, Ind. (BP) — Pastor Toby Jenkins and 200 others were hunkered down in the basement of First Baptist Church in Henryville about 3 p.m. last Friday, March 2, when an EF-4 tornado barreled down the main street of the small Indiana town of 6,000.

Jenkins and the 200 survived, as did the church, although most of its windows were blown out by the 175 mph winds. Houses on either side of the church were destroyed. Half of Henryville — the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Col. Sanders — gone.

“It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life,” Jenkins said, “and I’m from Mississippi and went through Katrina.” Jenkins had briefly left the basement just prior to the tornado and saw the black funnel cloud coming toward him and the church.

“I ran back to the church, got our people down in the basement and it hit with full force.” Jenkins said while no church members were killed, two deacons lost their homes.

In all, the deadly tornadoes killed at least 39 people across five states — 21 in Kentucky, 13 in Indiana, three in Ohio and one each in Alabama and Georgia. Three separate EF-3 tornadoes tore through 46 of Kentucky’s 120 counties, injuring 300.

The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief incident command center has been deployed at Bethel Baptist Church in Memphis, Ind., about four miles south of Henryville. The command center arrived Monday morning (March 5) after a 412-mile trip from Alpharetta, Ga.

John Rogers, disaster relief coordinator for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, said ongoing assessment would speed up in Henryville on Monday following permission from Homeland Security to enter the most severely damaged areas.

“Our chaplains are also arriving and beginning to minister to the victims in Henryville,” Rogers said. “Our top priority is to tarp damaged roofs and board up windows on the houses that survived the tornadoes. We will also have a need for chainsaw crews.” Rogers said Indiana Baptist DR teams expect to handle the situation without help from other state conventions.

Rogers and Jenkins said First Baptist in Henryville is overflowing with donated food items and clothing to the point where the church is running out of storage room.

“While we appreciate these donations, we really have enough at this time,” Rogers said. “What we need instead are monetary donations that can be used to help people get back on their feet. If a person’s home is in rubble, they really don’t have anywhere to store the clothing.”

In hard-hit West Liberty, Ky., Southern Baptist Disaster Relief recovery and feeding teams — ready to prepare 5,000 meals a day — are mobilized. Baptist volunteer deployments in Kentucky also include recovery and shower/laundry units and chaplains in Crittendon, recovery units and chaplains in London and assessors and chainsaw teams in Enterprise, reported Coy Webb, state DR director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

Prior to the Friday afternoon tornadoes, some 60 Illinois Baptist DR volunteers were already on the scene doing chainsaw work in the Harrisburg, Ky., area, where a tornado struck last Wednesday (Feb. 29).

Assessment teams also were responding in Branson, Mo., where a tornado also hit last Wednesday, damaging many of the theaters in the tourist town, and in Alabama, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. For regular updates about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, visit namb.net/subscribe-dr-enewsletter/ to subscribe. Donations to SBDR are fully tax deductible and 100 percent of all gifts are used to meet the needs of hurting people in the wake of disasters. Donations can be made through state Baptist conventions; online at namb.net/disaster-relief-donations/; by phone, 1-866-407-6262; or by mail. Checks should be made payable to “North American Mission Board” and sent to Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.

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  • Mickey Noah