The multi-state outbreak of some one hundred confirmed tornadoes in March 2012—which claimed nearly forty lives—was the second highest number of tornado deaths of any March in US history. Though it was not as deadly as the storms that ravaged Alabama and several other states in April 2011, it left devastation and suffering in its wake as it rushed through scores of communities.
On Friday, March 2, twenty-one of the thirty-nine deaths came in Kentucky, where three separate EF-3 tornadoes ripped through forty-six of Kentucky's 120 counties, injuring another three hundred people.
Also on that Friday, a massive EF-4 tornado barreled down the main street of Henryville, Indiana, a small town of six thousand. Thirteen people were killed across the state. Some one hundred Indiana Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers arrived in Henryville a few days later to start cleaning up the town.
"It was unlike anything I've ever seen in my life," said Toby Jenkins, pastor of Henryville's First Baptist Church, where he and two hundred others survived the tornado by huddling in the church's basement.
Almost every window in First Baptist was blown out by 175 mph winds, and houses on each side of the church were leveled. Half of Henryville—the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken's Colonel Sanders—was destroyed.
Because of the extensive damage in Henryville on March 2—and at the request of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana—the SBDR command center was deployed from its North American Mission Board base in Alpharetta, Georgia, on March 5, and set up at Bethel Baptist Church in Memphis, Indiana, about four miles south of Henryville. In addition to Henryville, the Indiana towns of Marysville and Pekin also suffered heavy tornado damage.
In hard-hit West Liberty, Kentucky, an eastern Kentucky town of about 3,500, feeding units also geared up to provide as many as five thousand meals a day for storm victims, first responders, and DR volunteers. DR volunteers also were mobilized for chainsaw and recovery work.
Sixty students from nearby Morehead State University assisted West Liberty homeowners, under the leadership of Kentucky Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia DR teams. In all, about three hundred Kentucky DR volunteers were mobilized to West Liberty. The State Convention of Baptists in Ohio provided child care volunteers.
Kentucky DR teams also fanned out across several other counties, and volunteers from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina moved into Martin and Lawrence counties at the request of Kentucky state DR director Coy Webb.
Southwestern Ohio also was struck by five tornadoes on March 2, with the strongest destroying dozens of homes in Moscow, where more than two hundred people were left homeless.
While late February to May is the traditional tornado season for states in the South, Southwest, and Midwest, even Hawaii recorded a rare tornado on the island of Oahu in March. Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee also reported varying degrees of property damage as a result of early March or late February tornadoes.
In response to the March tornadoes, SBDR teams from thirteen state conventions chalked up 2,918 volunteer days; prepared more than twenty-nine thousand meals; completed nearly five hundred debris removal, chainsaw, repair, and roofing jobs; provided child care for nearly seventy children; provided 840 showers; and washed numerous laundry loads.
More importantly, SBDR volunteers generated 2,535 ministry and chaplaincy contacts and 288 Gospel presentations, resulting in forty-one professions of faith and other decisions.
SBDR teams pressed into action in March for tornado response included those from the
• Georgia Baptist Convention
• Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention
• Kentucky Baptist Convention
• Illinois Baptist State Association
• State Convention of Baptists in Indiana
• Baptist State Convention of Michigan
• Missouri Baptist Convention
• Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
• State Convention of Baptists in Ohio
• Tennessee Baptist Convention
• South Carolina Baptist Convention
• Texas Baptist Men (Baptist General Convention of Texas)
• Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia
In addition to the multi-state DR response to the March tornadoes,
• California Southern Baptist Convention DR responded to fires in Reno, Nevada.
• Southern Baptists of Texas Convention provided fire cleanup assistance in Bastrop, Texas.
• Texas Baptist Men volunteers provided fire cleanup assistance in Bastrop, Texas.
• Louisiana Baptist Convention DR assisted with flood recovery in the Dry Creek area of southwest Louisiana.
• Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention DR teams handled mud-out work on the island of Molokai.
"The response to the early March tornadoes demonstrated the growth and development of the capacity of disaster relief ministry in state conventions," said Mickey Caison, NAMB's disaster relief team leader. "State conventions continue to do a good job of enlisting, training, and deploying volunteers and other resources to provide spiritual and physical ministry to communities affected by disasters."
For regular updates about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, visit namb.net/subscribe-dr-enewsletter. Donations to SBDR are fully tax deductible and are used to meet the needs of hurting people in the wake of disasters. Donations can be made through your local church or online at namb.net/givenow.