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Sirens, then tornadoes disrupt typical Sunday in Carbon Hill

CARBON HILL, Ala. (BP)–It had been a typical Sunday evening service at Carbon Hill’s First Baptist Church until the conclusion of pastor David Lowery’s sermon.

Shortly before he began the invitation, loud sirens pierced the quiet reverence of the sanctuary, alerting the smaller-than-usual congregation that bad weather was heading toward their community.

Unknown to the group of worshipers, Walker County was in the path of several killer tornadoes, leaving destruction and death in their wake Nov. 10. And little did they know, but First Baptist would become the shelter and home base for Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief the next day.

By the time the storms crashed through the area, Blooming Grove Baptist Church in Jasper, as well as the pastor’s house, were among the many damaged structures being reported on the TV news.

About two-county lengths to the east and south of Walker Baptist Association, Tommy Puckett, director of men’s ministries for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, was maneuvering his way back to Montgomery. He was preaching at First Baptist Church, Reform, in Pickens Baptist Association, when the storms crossed the Mississippi-Alabama line. “We did say enough, but I cut my sermon short,” Puckett confessed, noting his anticipation of the need to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

And Puckett’s intuition was correct. Feeding teams and cleanup crews were called up first thing Nov. 11.

Tuscaloosa Baptist Association’s feeding unit planned to set up at First Baptist in Carbon Hill by midday Nov. 11. Birmingham, Balwin and Walker associations’ cleanup teams also were assisting in the area.

Lowery’s wife, Joy, said Nov. 11 her husband had been out in the Carbon Hill community since 6:30 that morning checking on elderly church members.

While the church suffered no structural damage, it did have some shingles blown off the roof and some debris in the building that came in when the doors blew open. There were also trees uprooted on the property, student minister Timothy Murray said.

Marshall Baptist Association’s feeding unit, meanwhile, was deployed to Centre to help in that area, while cleanup teams were set to come from Etowah and Calhoun associations. Cleanup efforts in Cullman were to be headed up by teams from Madison and Limestone associations.

For Calhoun and Baldwin teams, the cleanup request came immediately on the heels of disaster relief efforts in Abbeville. They joined Columbia and Tuskegee Lee associations in chainsaw cleanup following the Nov. 5 F-2 tornado that damaged the southwest Alabama town in Judson Baptist Association. Morgan Baptist Association’s feeding unit also was deployed to Abbeville and served about 4,000 meals during the four days the teams worked.

“They finalized cleanup efforts by Saturday evening,” Puckett said. And by Sunday night, teams would be contacted again.

Also doing its part in Winston Baptist Association was First Baptist Church in Arley where Jason Vinson serves as pastor.

Esther Johnson, who directs the kitchen duties at the Arley church, said she and several volunteers from the church fed workers cleaning up after the storm Nov. 11. “The damage came close to the church, but it did not hurt the church,” Johnson said. “A few houses are gone and many are damaged. There were several cows and horses killed also.”

As local residents and other workers helped with cleanup efforts, First Baptist, Arley, became a haven for nourishment. “Some came in to eat and some took food back to the workers,” Johnson said, noting First Baptist Church in Haleyville also provided meals for the workers.

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