Tornadoes hit 8 counties in central Alabama; DR teams move in quicklycomment (0)
February 2, 2012
By Neisha Fuson
As 10 tornadoes raged through central Alabama on Jan. 23, Alabama Baptists let out a cohesive breath, “Not again, Lord.”
The single supercell thunderstorm produced tornadoes that hit eight counties — Chilton, Talladega, Elmore, Jefferson, Perry, Sumter, St. Clair and Tuscaloosa — according to the National Weather Service. The strongest tornado was an EF3 in Jefferson County. Two separate tornadoes swept through Tuscaloosa and Jefferson counties, killing one person each. According to The Birmingham News, more than 100 people sustained injuries, an estimated $15 million to $30 million in damage was done and more than 500 homes were damaged or destroyed across the state.
Alabama Baptist disaster relief teams responded quickly, according to Mel Johnson, disaster relief strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
“Disaster relief volunteers moved right in to the hardest struck areas and went to work. They are doing a fantastic job,” he said.
Associational disaster relief teams were on the ground within hours of the tornadoes and continue to work to help those in need. Alabama Baptists’ on-site command center was set up at First Baptist Church, Center Point, with John Hayes, disaster relief coordinator for District 11 (which includes the Birmingham area), as on-site commander. Teams included chain saw, feeding and chaplaincy.
Johnson said 15 disaster relief chaplains were serving in the Center Point area at press time. Chaplains from Calhoun Baptist Association led two people to Christ on Jan. 24, he added.
“These folks have done a great job of providing spiritual support and witnessing,” Johnson said.
Birmingham Baptist Association set up its feeding unit at First, Center Point, on Jan. 24 and has been making more than 1,800 meals a day with 25 trained volunteers, or “yellow shirts.”
The American Red Cross also set up at the church in a building that has direct outside access, a kitchen and showers, making it easy to receive, register and feed tornado survivors on-site.
Yellow shirts and other volunteers helped prepare food while the Red Cross distributed meals to affected areas.
Disaster relief chain saw crews from Birmingham Association also helped in the Center Point area. And more than 300 people were expected to volunteer over the Jan. 28–29 weekend, helping with debris cleanup.
For long-term response, the association will continue its Restoring Hope recovery plan, activated after the April 27, 2011, tornadoes, to help bring closure to each family’s situation, including helping with insurance, funding and counseling.
“[Birmingham Association] wants the churches to be the front-line [contact],” said Mike McLemore, executive director of the association. “We want the communities to know that the churches are the ones helping them. Birmingham Association wants to be behind the scenes.”
Several other associations also assisted in the cleanup and recovery efforts with disaster relief teams.
St. Clair Baptist Association deployed a team of 12 yellow shirts to Argo on Jan. 23 and Trussville the next day.
Glenn Pender, disaster relief coordinator for the association, said, “Our main ministry is not to remove trees. Our main ministry is to minister to people in crisis in the name of Christ.”
Mud Creek Baptist Association disaster relief volunteers helped remove trees in the Oak Grove area, finishing Jan. 26. The association planned a cleanup day Jan. 28 and, at press time, anticipated several volunteers from associational churches to serve.
Bessemer Baptist Association volunteers also spent time in Oak Grove, “slinging sawdust like crazy,” disaster relief coordinator Larry Harris said.
Selma Baptist Association sent out a team of 13 yellow shirts to complete three jobs in Maplesville on Jan. 23. It also sent nine yellow shirts to Clanton on Jan. 24, and they were able to complete all priority chain saw jobs by the end of the day. The teams worked closely with Chilton Baptist Association.
Larry Felkins, director of missions for Chilton Association, said, “So many people did so much so quickly that all you can say is that it was a great job done by the Chilton County community.”
Disaster relief teams from Calhoun Association, Friendship Baptist Association, Etowah Baptist Association, Sand Mountain Baptist Association and Tennessee River Baptist Association were deployed to work in the Clay and Center Point areas.
Along with associational disaster relief efforts, churches are assisting in various ways.
NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville, is one church that was able to help almost immediately, because it is located near a neighborhood devastated by the tornadoes.
By Jan. 24, the church was fully operating as a relief center, where people donated supplies like tarps, plastic bins, water and Gatorade, Pastor Bill Wilks said.
“We don’t wait. We get started right away, because people need help immediately,” he said.
NorthPark Baptist and nearby Deerfoot Baptist Church, Trussville, are housing volunteer relief workers.
“It’s beautiful to see so many volunteers, everybody pulling together,” Wilks said. “It doesn’t matter who they are or what church they go to; they are just pulling together to help people that are hurting.”
At Clearview Baptist Church, Pinson, donated goods — from food to clothing — are housed and available to anyone affected by the storms. The church also has seven flatbed trucks that it repeatedly loaded up with goods and took to affected areas. By Jan. 25, more than 1,500 meals had been prepared and delivered by volunteers at the church.
First, Center Point, Pastor Bobby Earls said, “It’s amazing how far we (all) have come (in organized relief efforts).”
Not only are Alabama Baptist disaster relief workers better prepared after the April 27 tornado devastation in the state but also Alabamians in general, he said, noting the strong community effort of neighbors helping neighbors, restaurants donating food, car dealerships donating water, etc.
First, Center Point, met Jan. 25 for Wednesday evening services, despite many members’ homes enduring damage from the storms. The congregation spent time in prayer for the community, and Earls said he has been focused on “opportunity.”
“God has given [First, Center Point] the opportunity with our location and facilities where we can be of service,” Earls said.
“We are very valuable right now. … We want to take advantage of the opportunity to minister to this community and be a Christian witness to get the gospel to the community.
“What I did experience last year (after the April 27 tornadoes) has been of great value to me and for our disaster relief teams. [Alabama Baptists] have learned a lot in a short time in terms of how to be more effective and how to respond more rapidly to meet needs.”
For more information on ways to help, visit www.sbdr.org. (Gary Hardin contributed)