BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — One of the most devastating tornado
outbreaks in the nation’s history left at least 290 people dead in six states
April 27 as Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers — already on the ground
in some locations — scrambled to assess damaged church buildings and assist in
disaster relief in the midst of power and telephone outages, and rubble.
In Alabama alone, more than 200
people died in 16 counties, and the governor estimated as many as half a
million to a million people were left without electricity.
Tennessee was the next hardest
hit with a reported 34 deaths, followed by 32 in Mississippi,
14 in Georgia, five in Virginia
and one in Arkansas. Entire
neighborhoods were leveled in the affected regions.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers in Alabama
already are assisting emergency response personnel in an effort to find
The Weather Channel called the outbreak the deadliest since 1974.
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama State Board of Missions and
treasurer of the Alabama Baptist Convention, said Thursday, “This is our
Katrina,” according to The Alabama Baptist newspaper.
Mel Johnson, director of disaster relief for the Alabama Baptist Convention,
said disaster relief volunteers “have been asked to assist in search and rescue
efforts” — a first for the Alabama
Johnson was one of about a dozen Baptist state convention disaster relief
leaders who participated in a Thursday morning conference call coordinated by
the North American Mission Board. State representatives shared about damage in
their states while others offered resources and volunteers when needed.
“Entire communities disappeared,” Johnson said. “Many hospitals, police departments,
local fire departments all sustained damage. At one campsite campers were
picked up and swept into a lake.
“We have teams that started responding yesterday,” Johnson said. “They have had
to cut their way into these areas.”
Johnson said after search and rescue, their top priority is establishing
several feeding sites near large population centers so they can begin serving
hot meals to victims.
Southern Baptist disaster relief leaders in Mississippi,
North Carolina and Virginia
also reported damage from Wednesday’s outbreak. The lack of electricity in Alabama
is making meal distribution a high priority.
Lance, the Alabama state exec,
also said via Twitter Thursday that he was thankful for a call from Southern
Baptist Executive Committee president Frank Page pledging prayer and other
support. The SBC family is needed in Alabama,
President Obama planned to visit Alabama
on Friday to view the damage and meet with state and local officials as well as
families affected by the storms.
Mickey Caison, NAMB’s Disaster Relief coordinator, called it the “storm you
never want to see.”
“Our top priority is to help people just get through the next few days and
weeks. After that, Southern Baptists will be called upon to help with the longer-term
effort to remove debris and help victims rebuild.”
The tornadoes came as Southern Baptists volunteers were also in the midst of
responding to floods in Kentucky,
Missouri and Arkansas
as well as earlier deadly tornadoes in North Carolina.
NAMB president Kevin Ezell called on Southern Baptists to pray “but I would
also like to ask every Southern Baptist and every church to donate to our
disaster relief efforts.” Ezell said people can give at Namb.net to a specially designated fund for
tornado and flood victims that will ensure that 100 percent of donations go
directly to help disaster victims. Donations also can be made to the disaster
relief unit of each state convention.
“God has blessed Southern Baptists with more trained disaster relief volunteers
and more disaster relief units than any other ministry or organization,” Ezell
said. “Now is a time to respond generously with our resources and our services
to meet physical and spiritual needs.”
At least one strong tornado cut a path through Tuscaloosa,
Ala., killing dozens, destroying hundreds
of homes and businesses and leaving roads impassable. Mayor Walter Maddox said
the storm obliterated blocks of the city, causing unprecedented devastation to
the city’s infrastructure.
“I don’t know how anyone survived,” Maddox told CNN. “We’re used to tornadoes
here in Tuscaloosa. It’s part of growing up. But when you look at the path of
destruction that’s likely five to seven miles long in an area half a mile to a
mile wide … it’s an amazing scene. There’s parts of the city I don’t
recognize, and that’s someone that’s lived here his entire life.”
Classes were canceled Thursday at the University
of Alabama, and some of the school’s
off-campus residents were among the dead. The school’s web site said the
semester was ending early and that students could settle for their current
grade or opt to take a final at a later date. May’s graduation ceremony has
been postponed until August.
The same tornado that hit Tuscaloosa
also hit Birmingham, Ala.,
causing significant damage with a Red Cross spokesman telling CNN the number of
ambulances on the street there was “just like taxicabs in New
It is not known how many church buildings in Alabama
and elsewhere were damaged or destroyed, but reports kept coming in through the
Church in Tuscaloosa
was heavily damaged, and in rural Phil Campbell, Ala. — 90 miles north of Tuscaloosa
— Mountain View Baptist
Church was destroyed. Other Alabama
churches that sustained heavy damage included First
in Cullman, Eastside Baptist
Church in Cullman, and First
In Mississippi, Smithville
in the northeastern part of the state and the neighboring United
“were both destroyed,” according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. “The
Baptist church had an inverted Chevy truck on top of its roof where its offices
once stood. The church bus lay on its side in a nearby ditch,” the newspaper
No building along a mile-long stretch through town was unaffected, and most
were destroyed in Smithville, a town with a population of 900 people. Homes
with bodies in them were marked with two orange Xs.
Marsha Houck, a nurse practitioner, told the Daily Journal, “People are walking
around in shock with broken arms and all sorts of injuries, and folks are
looking for their loved ones.”
In Georgia, Shorter
University, affiliated with the
Georgia Baptist Convention, was cleaning up Thursday after about 20 trees were
down on campus. Disaster relief teams from the state convention were onsite to
help, and classes were canceled. At least one window in the university’s
administration building was knocked out by a fallen tree, and a nearby garage
In the northwest corner of the state, First Baptist
Ringgold was reportedly hit by a tornado after the twister destroyed several
businesses at a nearby interstate exit — killing seven — before ripping up ball
fields and buildings at Ringgold High and Middle schools, The Christian Index
newspaper in Georgia
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin
Roach. Donations can be made online at Namb.net,
or to state conventions’ disaster units. Click here for North
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