Southern Baptist Disaster Relief mobilized more than fifty recovery teams throughout Alabama following the tornadoes of April 27. That day saw the deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in seventy-nine years, ripping a 200-mile swath across the state from Tuscaloosa to the Georgia state line, killing 249 Alabamians.
In all, killer tornadoes claimed 350 lives in six states. In addition to Alabama’s fatalities, the death toll from this round of tornadoes across the southern states was thirty-four in Mississippi, thirty-four in Tennessee, fifteen in Georgia, five in Virginia, and fourteen in Arkansas.
In the two weeks following the April 27 destruction, SBDR feeding units prepared and delivered more than 162,000 hot meals. Alabama feeding units have operated in Rainsville, Tuscaloosa, and Birmingham, while Kentucky Baptist Convention volunteers have fed victims in Henager, and Florida Baptist volunteers have fed victims in Double Springs. A Texas feeding unit also was deployed in Tuscaloosa, the hardest-hit city in Alabama, and a South Carolina kitchen was set up in Huntsville.
Thirteen shower units from Alabama—offering victims and volunteers shower facilities and washers and dryers for laundry—were mobilized for Pleasant Grove, Jasper, Vance, Moulton, Coker, Russellville, Hoover, Wellington, Ashville, Rainsville, Montgomery, and Cottondale.
Bill Carter and Fred Kornegay, representing Alabama’s Coosa Baptist Association, manned a shower unit with six stalls and four washers and dryers at Oak Grove Baptist Church in the Wellington/Glencoe area, where pastor Rick Luallen led a special worship service outside, although the 161-year-old church received only minor roof damage.
However, about one mile south down U.S. 431, Mamre Baptist Church’s two-year-old building was practically gutted by the tornado. The two churches were holding joint Sunday services and planned to continue for the foreseeable future.
John Thomas, director of missions for Calhoun County Baptist Association in Anniston, said the tornadoes devastated that northeast Alabama county from one end to the other.
“Chainsaw crews are out trying to do all they can to help homeowners,” Thomas said, adding that larger area churches such as Parker Memorial, Greenbriar, and Grace Baptist churches in Anniston, First Baptist in Oxford, and First Baptist in Jacksonville are shouldering much of the load for the response in the Calhoun County area.
Another fifty disaster relief teams from Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Michigan, Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas converged at a staging area in Ashville, Alabama, where they were to be deployed to various tornado-affected sites, said Bruce Poss, disaster relief unit coordinator at the North American Mission Board’s disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Georgia.
According to SBDR reports, more than forty-five Southern Baptist churches in Alabama were destroyed or suffered damages from the historic tornadoes. Charles Watson, an SBDR leader from Central, Louisiana., near Baton Rouge, said five chaplains, six damage assessors, and twenty-one chainsaw teams arrived in Geraldine, Alabama, on Friday night following the storms. He expected another thirty volunteers to show up in the small northeast Alabama town the following week, for a total of sixty just from Louisiana. They used First Baptist Church-Geraldine as their base.
Larry Murphy and Kyle Jeffreys, DR leaders from Enterprise, Alabam, said twenty-two feeding unit volunteers cranked out some 10,000-11,000 meals at Rainsville’s Broadway Baptist Church over the first weekend.
“We brought 3,000 meals with us,” Murphy said in early May. “We had tractor trailers of ice and water donated from Kentucky and Tyson Foods. We’ll be here at least another week. Power is coming back on and that takes the pressure off the feeding operation.”
Alan Reese, an assessment volunteer from the Marshall County Baptist Association in nearby Guntersville, worked with Louisiana chainsaw teams.
“We’ve been in neighborhoods where there’s nothing we can do because everything is gone—total destruction,” Reese said. “Our primary focus is ‘Priority Ones,’ places with trees on houses or driveways. There’s plenty of work to do—not only here in Rainsville but on jobs in Albertville and Arab. We’re covering a pretty big area, just trying to find chainsaw jobs that will give people hope.”
Ken Clements, director of missions for the DeKalb County Baptist Association in Rainsville, said thirty-eight people were killed in DeKalb County.
“Mountain View Baptist Church in rural DeKalb County was totally destroyed, but they had 200 people in the worship service today [May 1],” Clements said. “Gov. Bentley was there.
“We’re just telling Southern Baptists that this is your Cooperative Program dollars at work!” Clements said.
Rainsville resident Roger Bouldin, himself a Southern Baptist and member of nearby Fyffe Baptist Church, was grateful for Kenny Hester of Pine Ridge, Alabama, and the other five members of the Alabama chainsaw team who took a large oak tree off his house.
“They’ve done a great job and I’m tickled to death,” said Bouldin, whose home was largely undamaged by the tornado. “It came through here about 6 p.m. Wednesday night, and we took off to the basement. It was really scary. But a lot of people had it a lot rougher than we did.”
Since this story broke, flooding and more tornadoes have impacted numerous sections of our country. Now is an ideal time for Southern Baptists to reflect the compassion of Christ in tangible ways. Not everyone can wield a chainsaw or shovel mud, but most can contribute to disaster relief efforts, and everyone can pray. If you would like to donate to NAMB’s disaster relief fund, you can give through your church or go to www.namb.net and click 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 also can 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.