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UPDATE: Disaster relief teams respond to U.S. storms

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated Tuesday (Jan. 14).

ANNISTON, Ala. (BP) — “To God be the glory, great things He has done,” rang opening praise at First Baptist Church of Saks in Anniston, Ala., Sunday (Jan. 12) morning, glorifying God for stemming damage when a tornado flew over the church and community the previous day.

“The weather report for Saks … said that a tornado did go over here,” senior pastor Kenneth Todd Stewart told Baptist Press Monday (Jan. 13). “But evidently it stayed fairly high, because mainly it was steeples and tree tops and power lines [damaged]. Even the homes that got damaged were mainly from trees falling on them, as opposed to the tornado itself touching down and wiping a big path.”

The disaster relief team at the Calhoun Baptist Association (CBA), where First Baptist of Saks is a member church, deployed 19 men and women Saturday (Jan. 11) and Sunday who completed 160 hours of disaster relief work in the county, CBA Director of Missions Roger Willmore told BP Monday.

Three people died in Alabama, killed by a tornado that touched down in Pickens County about 160 miles southwest of Anniston, the Weather Channel reported.

Reported weekend deaths included three in northwest Louisiana, two from an EF2 tornado near Haughton, and one when high winds toppled a tree northwest of Shreveport. Multiple chainsaw crews from First Baptist Church of Blanchard, La., and First Baptist Church of Haughton responded to damage, removing trees and inspecting churches and homes, John Kyle, director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, told BP late Monday.

First Baptist of Haughton served meals to area residents Sunday and hosted a watch party Monday for the national college football championship game, since many were still without electricity, Kyle said. A laundry unit was available at the church for those in need.

The deaths are among 11 killed in a line of severe weather that struck Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Ohio and Iowa variously with tornadoes, thunderstorms, high winds, ice and heavy rains, according to various news reports.

Casualties included three deaths in Texas, one in Nacogdoches County from a downed tree and two first responders hit by a car while responding to an accident caused by icy roads in Texas; a man who drowned from flooding in Oklahoma, and a man who died in a weather-related traffic accident in Iowa City, Iowa, according to reports.

In Alabama, damage to First Baptist Church of Saks was minimal, the pastor said, including a toppled steeple and water damage.

“Our damage to our facility … was minimal in that the entire steeple blew over, laid down on its side, but it did not fall off of the building,” Stewart said. “We lost a few shingles, but nothing extensive.”

With the steeple toppled, water damaged ceiling tiles and part of the sanctuary, which will need to be cleaned, he said. As advised by the church’s insurance, the church removed the damaged steeple Sunday morning to prevent additional water damage, and sealed the roof. The church canceled Sunday School and worshiped in the congregation’s Christian Life Center.

“Worship went forward, and people gave thanks and praised God that things were not worse than they were,” Stewart said. The church expressed “thanksgiving unto the Lord that His hand of providence and protection was with our people and our community. We actually opened our service with ‘To God Be the Glory.’ Great things he has done, indeed.”

Two other Alabama churches, Edgewater Baptist Church in Bessemer and Valley Grove Baptist Church in Tuscumbia, also suffered minor damage, confirmed Mark Wakefield, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions disaster relief coordinator.

The CBA disaster relief team removed trees that had fallen on two homes, cleaned driveways and roadways of fallen trees, installed a tarp roof on a home and drove many miles assessing damage. The team also presented the Gospel to two homeowners, Willmore said, and will follow up with them as recovery continues.

“[Presenting the Gospel] is part and parcel of our disaster relief efforts,” Willmore said, “and our team considers that a very important part of our mission.”

CBA disaster relief director Scotty Duke had a team on standby before the storms hit, Willmore told BP, and was able to deploy volunteers immediately.