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Alabama Baptist disaster relief volunteers deploy after April 28 tornadoescomment (0)

May 8, 2014

By Gary Hardin

Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers have responded forcefully after about 20 tornadoes and strong straight-line winds inflicted damage in 31 of Alabama’s 67 counties April 28. The latest death toll is nine. At press time the total number of injuries had not yet been calculated.

The tornadoes ripped through the state of Alabama, three years and one day after the deadly tornado outbreak that occurred April 27, 2011. According to AccuWeather, the first tornado watch for the latest outbreak was placed on parts of Alabama at 1:39 p.m. April 28, and by 8:42 p.m. Gov. Robert Bentley had declared every county was under a state of emergency.

At 3 a.m. April 29 David Patty, director of missions for Sand Mountain Baptist Association, was helping enlist a team of Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers to serve in the Sardis area of Etowah County.

“We have been going at it hard,” Patty said. “Many people in the area still have entrances to their homes blocked by fallen trees.”

Ty Corbin, District 3 disaster relief coordinator, said about 50 volunteers — chain saw teams, a shower unit, heavy equipment operators and a feeding team — were serving in the Sardis community. “Sardis suffered tremendous property damage over a 4- to 5-mile radius,” he explained. 

Help from associations

Corbin said teams from seven associations were helping in Sardis — Autauga, Calhoun, Cleburne, DeKalb, Elmore, Etowah and Marshall. Bethlehem Baptist Church, Sardis, served as the host church.

In North Alabama, Limestone County was hit hard. The Weather Channel listed tornadoes ranking up to EF3 in Limestone County with speeds of 140 mph and traveling more than 15 miles in 27 minutes. A string of residences and businesses along U.S. 72 took direct hits from the storm system.

Jerry Butler, Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief “white cap” (top-level DR leader onsite) helping coordinate the relief effort in Limestone County, said, “This area took a hard lick. The tornado stayed on the ground for miles, and everything in its path got knocked down.”

The Madison Baptist Association sent 21 chain saw cutters and five chaplains to Limestone County. “Our team has been working north of downtown Athens. It’s real bad here,” said Wayne Miller, disaster relief coordinator for Madison Baptist Association.

A team of 10 volunteers from St. Clair Baptist Association also served in Limestone County. “Our team is made of chain saws, a skid steer and a bucket truck,” said Glenn Pender, St. Clair Association disaster relief coordinator. “In fact, we might be the only association in the state with a bucket truck.”

Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief teams from the following associations also are helping with the relief efforts in Limestone County: East Cullman, Limestone, Madison, Marshall, Morgan, Tennessee River and West Cullman.

In North Jefferson County an EF1 tornado destroyed Kimberly Fire Department and damaged multiple other buildings in a matter of just nine minutes. With speeds reaching up to 100 mph and a width of nearly 800 yards, the tornado was able to send parts of the fire department building across the road. Several firefighters were seeking shelter when the tornado hit, but there were no injuries. Kimberly Church of God also encountered severe damage as did North Jefferson Middle School, a vacant retail building and multiple homes in the Doss Ferry subdivision.

Sherrell White, disaster relief coordinator for Chilton Baptist Association, enlisted a team of nine volunteers to help in Kimberly, including chain saw cutters and heavy equipment operators.

Joe Mims, a “blue cap” for one of the specific disaster relief ministries from Chilton Association, bragged on the volunteers. “Many of them are older and have physical problems, but they want to serve. They are super dedicated to disaster relief.”

In the towns of Adamsville and Graysville in North Jefferson County an EF2 tornado with a path more than 5 miles long and 1,500 yards wide left considerable property damage.

Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief teams from Birmingham, Chilton and Shelby Baptist associations joined the relief efforts in Adamsville and Graysville. Enon Baptist Church, Morris, in North Jefferson Baptist Association, hosted the teams.

As always, Alabama’s disaster relief volunteers have served cheerfully. Gerald Garrett, disaster relief team leader from Shelby Association, told of a special prayer time his team had one morning. “In our morning devotional with the team we prayed for victims and also thanked God for giving us the opportunity to help people.”

In Bessemer, Larry Harris, Bessemer Baptist Association disaster relief coordinator, enlisted seven chain saw operators to help remove trees from driveways and from the tops of homes. “We have worked mostly in the neighborhoods behind UAB West Hospital,” Harris said.

But May 1, damage assessment showed the Bessemer destruction to be worse than first thought. Additional disaster relief teams from Bethel and Selma Baptist associations have been sent to Bessemer.

In other parts of Alabama, disaster relief volunteers from Franklin and Colbert Lauderdale Baptist associations did chain saw and cleanup work in Russellville. “The people we helped appreciated our ministry,” said Billy Entrekin, Franklin Baptist Association disaster relief coordinator.

A tornado left a trail of destruction in Blount County, and the Highland Lake Community of Oneonta also had significant damage. Disaster relief volunteers from Blount and St. Clair associations assisted with relief efforts.

Disaster relief volunteers from Walker Baptist Association did chain saw work in the Boldo community, according to Charles Sanders, District 9 disaster relief coordinator.

At press time, disaster relief officials were assessing damage and needs in Tuscaloosa.

Trained chaplains accompany all Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief teams.

“Alabama’s disaster relief chaplains pray with and encourage disaster victims, give them emotional support, and most importantly, share the gospel,” said Mark Wakefield, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) chaplaincy strategist.

Newly trained chaplain Sonya Hayes, a member of Southside Baptist Church, Decatur, in Morgan Association, served for the first time alongside a chain saw team in Limestone County. “I went with excitement because I have a strong desire to minister to people. But I also went with some apprehension because I wanted to remember my training,” she said.

Chris Gwinn, a disaster relief chaplain and pastor of First Baptist Church, Crossville, in DeKalb Baptist Association, understands the emotional demands faced by disaster relief chaplains. “You go and go and go, ministering all out to people, and then you hit a wall emotionally. You have to take a break.”

Call to prayer

Mel Johnson, SBOM disaster relief strategist, has issued a call to prayer to all Alabama Baptists.

“Pray for families who have lost loved ones and belongings. Pray for emergency personnel. And pray for our disaster relief volunteers,” Johnson said.

Those wishing to aid by donating financially to the ongoing disaster relief ministry may send a check payable to Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, P.O. Box 11870, Montgomery, AL 36111-0870. Please note “Alabama Disaster Relief” on the check.

Donations also can be made online at www.sbdr.org. (Hannah Muñoz contributed)

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