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Alabama Baptists committed to District 10 areacomment (0)

May 17, 2012

By Leigh Pritchett

Alabama Baptists committed to District 10 area

The storm activity of April 27, 2011, and its destruction most certainly etched a place in history.

In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) report “The Historic Tornadoes of April 2011” noted that it was “one of the deadliest in the country since systematic tornado record keeping began in 1950.”

The report states that 316 people died that day in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia. 

Two-thirds of those fatalities were in Alabama.

All but three of the deaths occurred in the afternoon and evening rash of cyclones, states the report, which was released last December.

More than 2,400 people were injured and the storm damage has been estimated at more than $4.2 billion, according to the report.

That day, there were 199 tornadoes across 14 states, the report continues.

News accounts and other sources have placed the number of tornadoes in Alabama at 61.

“Five were responsible for 208 fatalities” in Marion, Franklin, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Tuscaloosa, Jefferson, DeKalb, St. Clair and Calhoun counties, the NOAA report reveals.

In the District 10 region of Alabama Baptist life — which includes Colbert, Franklin, Lawrence, Lauderdale, Marion and Winston counties — 70 people lost their lives.

Two factors that may have contributed to the high number of fatalities in Alabama were “a large number of rare, long-track violent storms” and “tornado tracks intersecting densely populated areas,” the report concludes.

When the one-year anniversary arrived, some areas of Alabama had been able to achieve a new “normal,” while many others remained in a state of recovery. Those who live in ravaged areas realize it may take years to regain a level of normalcy.

Yet as time marches away from the tragedy, the less likely it is that the needs in those places will come to mind.

So it is with urgency that Larry Dover, director of missions (DOM) for Franklin Baptist Association, said there is “still a need not to forget us.”

Colbert-Lauderdale Association

On April 27, 2011, the disaster relief crew of Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association cut trees until late afternoon, when the weather became quite threatening, said DOM Eddy Garner.

Later some disaster relief volunteers went to Phil Campbell to cut trees and assist families with locating missing members, Garner said.

Garner, who was one of those helping family members find the missing, described it as “traumatic.” He said chaplains were counseling people.

For a couple of weeks, Colbert-Lauderdale Association’s chain saw and chaplaincy volunteers served in Phil Campbell, said Garner, who as DOM sought to assist his counterparts in Marion, Franklin and Muscle Shoals.

Garner was able to coordinate a team from Mississippi that arrived to help in Franklin and Marion. 

The team lodged at First Baptist Church, Russellville, in Franklin Association. So did an Oklahoma group that worked in Franklin and Muscle Shoals through Colbert-Lauderdale Association.

Colbert-Lauderdale Association churches donated food, money and other items for those affected by the storms. Churches gave food and money to feed people in Phil Campbell, and a feeding unit from South Alabama assisted in the endeavor.

The Saturday after the tornado, an “unbelievable” number of people arrived in Franklin, Marion and Muscle Shoals associations to volunteer, Garner said.

For two or three months, people from Colbert-Lauderdale Association traveled into affected areas.

In August 2011, teams from the association and churches worked through First Baptist Church, Phil Campbell, on various projects.

In all, as many as 20 teams from the association and its churches have traveled to damaged areas to work, Garner noted.

The association will participate in rebuilding Mountain View Baptist Church, Phil Campbell, in Franklin Association this summer and possibly Emmanuel Baptist Church, Hackleburg, in Marion Association, Garner said.

In October 2011, churches of the association, other denominations and businesses held a ministers’ appreciation banquet for pastors from Franklin, Marion, Muscle Shoals and Limestone associations. 

The ministry couples were treated to a getaway at Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa. Garner estimated that 100 pastors attended.

The reason for the getaway, Garner explained, was that the pastors in those areas were doing what they could to care for individuals affected by the storms. It seemed that these pastors could benefit from time away from the situation to help them recover too.

Even though a year has lapsed since the storms, some people still have physical or emotional needs that must be addressed. Garner said it is important not to forget or to overlook those needs.

Franklin Association

A tornado on April 27, 2011, tore through Marion County’s Hackleburg, Franklin County’s Phil Campell and Oak Grove and continued into Lawrence County, said Larry Dover, DOM of Franklin Association.

Twenty-six people in Franklin County lost their lives, and one additional from the county who was in another location. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed. “Every building in the path was destroyed,” Dover said. And peripheral damage was plentiful.

“This was total destruction,” in some places as much as a mile-and-a-half wide, he said.

Mountain View Baptist and First, Phil Campbell, took direct hits. 

Immediately a “tremendous outpouring of local folks” began to assist, Dover said, noting Colbert-Lauderdale Association’s disaster relief team appeared quickly.

Calvary Baptist Church, Russellville, and First, Russellville, established food service for people in Hackleburg and Phil Campbell and provided lodging for volunteers coming into the area.

At least 80 percent of Franklin Association’s trained disaster relief volunteers were on the job.

In addition to volunteers from Colbert-Lauderdale Association, individuals from Morgan Baptist Association, other locations in Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma and more gave their assistance.

“We also had local folks,” untrained volunteers, Dover said. “Those folks just showed up by the pickup loads.”

They had the skills and equipment, so they went right to work, he said. “There were hundreds and hundreds of [them]. The damage was so extensive, you could just stop anywhere and work.”

Dover said it took weeks to get some roads open.

When efforts turned to rebuilding, teams from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as Mennonites from Ohio and Pennsylvania, answered the call. Among the Alabamians who responded were Alabama-Crenshaw Baptist Association, Lamar Baptist Association and County Line Baptist Church, Enterprise, in Coffee Baptist Association. A shower unit from Baldwin Baptist Association accommodated churches that were housing volunteers.

Franklin Association’s team decided to stay home for its missions trip last year, Dover noted. 

“That week, we did a building blitz,” he said. The team started one house and completed eight or nine other projects.

Groups from Lamar Association and Kentucky assisted with projects, and Lamar Association will be coming back in May. Dover said teams might work this summer if funds are available for rebuilding. 

So far, volunteers have worked on 33 homes. Some required minor repairs, some major. Four were totally rebuilt.

Those numbers do not include what the Mennonites and others did, Dover said.

The association still needs volunteer teams “for many more months.”

The sight of empty lots or partial foundations is still abundant, he said. “There’s still a tremendous need. You can see that as you drive through.”

Nonetheless, Dover said progress is visible in communities.

In addition, First, Phil Campbell, is back in its facility, while as many as 1,500 volunteers are committed to rebuilding Mountain View Baptist this summer.

A positive that grew from this tragedy is that people who previously thought no one cared about them discovered there “are many, many who do,” Dover added. “It’s been amazing the people who came up and said, ‘What can I do?’” People offered their homes, campers and the like for individuals who had no place to live.

“I think the community is closer than they were,” he said.

Individuals did not wait on others to help them; they helped themselves. And when help was offered, they would direct it to someone they felt needed it more, Dover said.

Marion Association

“We did not have a tornado. We had a disaster,” said Mark W. Gallups, DOM of Marion Association.

A fierce cyclone barreled through Marion County, leaving 30 people dead and more than 200 homes destroyed. 

The storm also claimed a school and four churches. One of the churches was Emmanuel Baptist Church, Hackleburg, where the pastor and some relatives where sheltered in the basement.

“Hackleburg basically did not exist after that,” Gallups said. First Baptist Church, Hackleburg, was left standing, but not without damage.

In some ways, Marion County was overlooked after the storms because the magnitude of damage there was not realized for a while, Gallups said.

Initially, individuals within the county were helping each other.

Gallups said Steve Lawrence, then-pastor of First, Hackleburg, “did a phenomenal job” of organizing assistance. David Cantrell, who was the church’s associate pastor at the time, coordinated emergency relief.

“They literally worked day and night,” Gallups said. “They were heroes.”

Gallups also praised officials with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions for being present. “Rick Lance was here. He was visible. Sammy Gilbreath was here.” 

Major financial donations — totaling about $68,000 — also came quickly from churches and associations around the state and nation as well as an “abundance of things” from Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia and elsewhere, Gallups said.

Disaster relief teams from Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania worked in the area. Other entities giving assistance were the National Guard, Mennonites, Eight Days of Hope, Habitat for Humanity and Carpenters for Christ, he said.

First Baptist Church, Vernon, in Lamar Association also aided Marion Association, Gallups noted.

“We were able to help a lot of people,” he said, noting the monetary donations purchased furniture, appliances, pots and pans and funded related endeavors, such as moving a mobile home to a site.

“We did all kinds of things. We served hundreds of people on a weekly basis. I’m proud of our community.”

There were many acts of kindness and compassion during that time as well. One example Gallups gave was that Hines Memorial Baptist Church, Bear Creek, delayed its Vacation Bible School in order to accommodate Carpenters for Christ team members who came to the county to work.

Also, in August 2011, Danville Baptist Church, in Morgan Association worked with Marion Association on a “Day of Hope” block party. Gallups said all Marion Association churches were involved in this event that drew more than 800 people.

Gallups reported that work has begun on Emmanuel Baptist. 

In March and April, the land was graded and the slab was poured. Teams from Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Carpenters for Christ are slated to assist with construction.

Gallups said rebuilding Emmanuel will also become a project of the 22 churches of his association. He believes this common goal will pull everyone in the association together spiritually.

Gallups added that the association’s missions trip this year will be working at Emmanuel. 

Marion Association has two great needs still to address. One is $60,000 for rebuilding Emmanuel Baptist. The other is a great deal of prayer.

“We need prayer support” as the people and the county continue to recover, Gallups said.

Muscle Shoals Association

“Right now, we’re doing pretty well,” reported Robert Smith, DOM of Muscle Shoals Baptist Association.

But on April 27, 2011, the opposite was true.

“It was bad,” Smith said.

The storms claimed as many as 14 lives in the county, caused “lots of injuries” and damaged or destroyed more than 200 homes, Smith said. 

Chalybeate Springs Baptist Church, Hillsboro, also suffered harm.

Chaplains from the area went to the hospital that night to counsel and pray with people and to help unload ambulances.

“It was a terrible night. It started then and lasted for months,” Smith said of the efforts to comfort and assist those affected by the storms.

Initial relief efforts within Lawrence County, where Muscle Shoals Association is located, were neighbor aiding neighbor. 

Soon after the disaster, a chain saw group from Oklahoma served in the county for a week, Smith said. Plus, a feeding unit from Tennessee was provided, and Morgan Association brought a shower unit for the Oklahoma workers to use.

Moulton Baptist Church and Mount Hope Baptist Church, both in Muscle Shoals Association, and Colbert-Lauderdale Association housed volunteers responding to needs in the county.

Groups from Huntsville, Decatur, Oklahoma and Tennessee — even youth groups — gave their time, Smith said, noting assistance came from many different entities and denominations, such as the Mennonites.

The first three to five months after the storms were “really busy,” with a significant number of volunteers and groups serving, Smith said. 

It was “overwhelming” to see just how many were willing to serve. Even some businesses paid their employees to engage in disaster relief during that time.

Then individuals and groups — such as First Baptist Church, Pelham, in Shelby Baptist Association — arrived to do repairs and other projects, Smith said.

The association received and dispensed about $23,000 to people to help them get settled again, doing things like building porches and installing septic tanks.

Though much has been accomplished since last April, Lawrence County is “not back to normal, but well on its way,” Smith reported.

In this disaster, Smith said he saw the churches of Muscle Shoals Association reach out to people in the communities. 

He said the people of Lawrence County came to understand that the churches are there to serve.

Smith said the situation also prompted more people from the association’s 34 churches to become trained in disaster relief.

Winston Association

“Compared to everybody else, we had minimal damage,” said Al Hood, DOM of Winston Baptist Association.

More than 40 structures in the northwestern portion of the county suffered damage or were destroyed, Hood said. Thankfully, though, “we had no injuries and no deaths.”

“God just put His hand on us,” he continued. “Everywhere around us was devastated.”

Being somewhat spared allowed the association and county to be a blessing to others by serving them, Hood said.

Because electrical and water service were available in the county, two feeding units from Florida set up at First Baptist Church, Double Springs, in Winston Association to serve people in Walker, Marion, Franklin, Cullman and Lawrence counties.

In addition, food service lines were established at First Baptist Church, Addison, and the association office. Volunteers delivered meals to some individuals in the county.

The people of the association “also did some food distribution here in Winston County” because there were individuals who lost everything in the storm and did not get paid on time as a result of the disaster, Hood said.

Nonetheless “we were a lot more fortunate than other associations,” he noted.

Winston Association’s disaster relief volunteers served not only in the county after the storms but also in Lawrence and Cullman counties. 

Individuals from the association and its churches served as well in Phil Campbell and Hackleburg. The Sunday after the tornadoes, a couple of churches spent their afternoon working in storm-damaged areas.

Congregants from the association have assisted with four Habitat for Humanity houses in Hackleburg, as well as one project through First, Hackleburg, Hood said.

Winston Association’s laundry trailer has been to Higdon, Ensley and Cordova and “a lot of our people worked with it.”

For the most part, when assistance has been offered to Winston, Hood has directed it to other associations where the situation was much worse.

This disaster showed that basically all the churches of Winston are willing to reach out and meet needs, Hood said. It also demonstrated that people “are willing to do what it takes to get the job done.” 

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