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South’s residents find hope amid chaos

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (BP)–Armando Sesena, his wife and daughter are now staying with family, but their house is gone — swept away three minutes after they ran to their basement.

“Three minutes,” Sesena said. “We were in the basement three minutes then whoosh.”

He pointed to what might be part of a wall of his former home, but in a field of spilled-out houses in Tuscaloosa, Ala., it’s hard for people with upturned lives to tell or care what’s theirs. An EF4 tornado churned up the town on its multi-state path April 27, making a long, belabored cut through downtown Tuscaloosa.

The storm destroyed whole communities across parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia killing more than 300 people.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) crews rolled in the next day from Alabama, then from nine other states, hearing stories of how looters created fresh wounds in an already-wounded city.

But they also heard stories of people caring for one another.

As an SBDR chainsaw team from Texas cut away an oak that crushed her Birmingham home, Tia Graham said she remembers her prayer of gratitude.

“We put a helmet on my granddaughter and hid in the laundry room. I’d heard of tornados. They said you hear a freight train, but it was five times louder than a freight train. We thought, ‘This is it,'” Graham said. “Then everything went quiet and we realized we were still here. There was debris falling everywhere. We prayed and thanked God we were alive.

“Everybody came and checked on us,” Graham said. “It was amazing how much people cared.”

Tuscaloosa resident Gloria Reed broke down amid piles of pines stacked high by a Texas SBDR chainsaw crew.

“I’m 72 years old, a widow, it was just terrible,” Reed said. “When a train passes I jump. Even that little roar of jet sounds different.

“These people showed up. They were a gift from God,” Reed added, referring to the SBDR team cutting down, cutting up and hauling trees to the street and away from her house. “I don’t know what I would have done if they hadn’t shown up.”

To date, SBDR units have reported for the spring storms:

— 13,469 volunteer days

— 259,451 meals prepared

— 1,738 chainsaw jobs

— 17 mudout jobs

— 532 chaplaincy contacts

— 383 Gospel presentations

— 53 professions of faith

“It’s amazing what becomes unimportant and what people cling to when something like this hits your life,” said North American Mission Board president Kevin Ezell, who has visited sites in Alabama. “Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers provide a demonstration of God’s love and an opportunity for people to embrace Him.”
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board. Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to NAMB’s disaster relief fund can go to www.namb.net and hit the “donate now” button. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Checks should be designated for “Southern Storms 2011.” Donations can also be sent via texting “NAMBDR” to the number “40579.” A one-time donation of $10 will be added to the caller’s mobile phone bill or deducted from any prepaid balance.

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  • Adam Miller