APLINGTON, Iowa (BP)–A disaster relief feeding unit from the Baptist Convention of Iowa expected to prepare 3,800 meals for lunch and dinner May 28 in the aftermath of the strongest tornado to hit the state in 32 years.
The EF5 tornado with winds of up to 205 mph cut a swath three-quarters of a mile wide and killed seven people, the National Weather Service reported. About a third to half of Parkersburg, a town of 1,900 people in northeast Iowa, was destroyed May 25.
Ty Berry, disaster relief coordinator for the Iowa convention, told Baptist Press the feeding unit is set up at the city park in Aplington, another small town about four miles from Parkersburg. The unit arrived soon after the tornado and began preparing meals to be sent out on Red Cross emergency response vehicles.
Berry said the feeding unit planned to prepare about 1,000 meals for breakfast May 29 for a total of around 4,800 on Friday. He expected the number of meals to increase during the weekend as more volunteers reach the area to help people clean up their home sites. As of Wednesday, the unit was not feeding onsite.
“We have 20 volunteer workers at this unit right now, and they’ll be here until Friday,” Berry said. “And then we have a second wave of people coming in. We keep about 15 to 20 people staffed here at all times.”
About eight members of a chainsaw unit based at Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Ames were working in Parkersburg on Wednesday, Berry said.
“I think one of the good things about this is that Southern Baptists are just not that well-known in Iowa but more and more people are getting to know us and see what we do as a faith-based group of people,” he said. “They’re very delighted to learn who we are and what we’re about. They’re very welcoming to us to be here doing what we’re doing, so we’re gratified by that.”
Berry said the people of Iowa he has encountered during disaster relief have a good work ethic and are willing to volunteer to help those in need. He also said Iowa Baptist volunteers know the main reason they’re helping is to share the good news about salvation in Jesus.
“We’ve already had numerous people come up and ask us why we’re here because none of us that are working here live in the community,” Berry recounted. “When they ask us that question, we have an opportunity to share, and we’ve done that on a number of occasions and people have been blessed.
“We’ve had people reaffirm their faith. We haven’t had anyone accept Christ or anything like that, but we’ve had people that have told us they were blessed that we’re here,” Berry said. “Every opportunity that we get, we try to share our faith.”
The last EF5 tornado in the United States demolished Greensburg, Kan., and killed 11 people on May 4, 2007, the Associated Press noted. The last time Iowa experienced a tornado of that size was June 13, 1976, in the town of Jordan. Despite the storm’s magnitude, no one was killed.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver estimated about 350 homes in and near Parkersburg were destroyed by Sunday’s tornado and another 100 homes sustained major damage. About 50 people were injured, he said.
Officials at the National Weather Service marveled that more people were not killed by the Parkersburg tornado given its strength, but it so happened that the city had installed a weather siren just 10 days before the storm, AP said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.