Alabama Baptists provide recovery assistance following March 25 tornadoes

April 7, 2021

Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief chaplain Cynthia Watts shares stories with children at the Huffman ABDR Command Center. Disaster Relief was deployed following the tornado March 25. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Watts)

Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief responded quickly following the March 25 tornado outbreak that left five dead and carved a path of destruction through several counties.

“Alabama is no stranger to the wrath of Mother Nature,” said Gov. Kay Ivey in a March 29 press conference at Oak Bowery Baptist Church, Ohatchee. “It comes all too frequently.”

ABDR quickly set up command centers in key areas across the state, and volunteers were assessing even as the rain continued following the tornadoes.

Oak Bowery’s fellowship hall was filled with people from the community waiting out the storm.

A donation center set up at Oak Bowery provided cleaning supplies and necessities for those impacted by the tornado. The Calhoun County EMA set up at the church to operate services for the community. Ohatchee Senior Center also used its space to provide supplies.

Five people were killed in Calhoun County: Joe Wayne Harris, 74; Barbara Harris, 69, Ebonique Harris, 38; James William Geno, 72; and Emily Myra Wilborn, 72.

A seventh-grader was injured in the Harris family home. She was taken to Children’s of Alabama.

“She had multiple injuries and is recovering,” said Jennifer Craig, a member of Hill Crest Baptist Church, Anniston, and Ohatchee High School counselor.

Hill Crest was the command center for ABDR efforts in Calhoun County. Assessors started work March 25 and continued working with chainsaw teams throughout the weekend and into the following week.

Craig spent Friday and the weekend on the phone trying to contact all the high school students — about 450 of them. She was helping fill needs through the churches and local emergency officials.

Oak Bowery has offered three meals a day since the tornado came through.

“Our ladies said, ‘We’ll feed until there is not a need,’” said Katie Fordham, wife of Oak Bowery’s pastor, Sam.

Central Alabama

Three ABDR teams were working in Helena in Shelby County on March 26, the day after the tornadoes struck there.

While volunteers were setting up a command center at Indian Springs First, those teams were focused on a small neighborhood near Old Town Helena.

“We’ll be here as long as the work is needed,” said John Hayes, the ABDR white hat for the site and member of Adamsville Baptist Church.

Huffman Baptist Church, which also served as a command center, hosted a chainsaw team from Limestone Association and cooks from Birmingham Metro Association.

Chaplains from Limestone and Birmingham Metro were on the scene as well.

By Dianna L. Cagle

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