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Death toll tops 200 in Ala., nears 300 in U.S.
Baptist Press
April 29, 2011
7 MIN READ TIME

Death toll tops 200 in Ala., nears 300 in U.S.

Death toll tops 200 in Ala., nears 300 in U.S.
Baptist Press
April 29, 2011

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

survivors.

The Weather Channel called the outbreak the deadliest since 1974.

Photo courtesy of Alberta Baptist Church

Alberta Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was one of an unknown number of Southern Baptist churches damaged during the Wednesday tornadoes. More significantly: Nearly 300 people died across the region, and the number is climbing.

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

volunteers.

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,

Tennessee, Georgia,

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,

Lance said.

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

York.”

It is not known how many church buildings in Alabama

and elsewhere were damaged or destroyed, but reports kept coming in through the

day Thursday.

Alberta Baptist

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

Baptist Church

in Cullman, Eastside Baptist

Church in Cullman, and First

Baptist Church

in Fultondale.

In Mississippi, Smithville

Baptist Church

in the northeastern part of the state and the neighboring United

Methodist Church

“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

said.

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

was destroyed.

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

reported.

(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

Carolina.)

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