Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams were working in the initial phases of rescue and recovery Dec. 14 in west and south-central Kentucky. Teams from Kentucky, North Carolina, Missouri and Texas have responded to calls for help.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said at least 100 Kentuckians are still missing as recovery efforts continue. The death toll for the storms that stretched across Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee early Saturday morning have left more than 70 dead.
Kentucky Baptist Glenn Hickey is the incident commander for the site in Mayfield. Hickey calls the destruction the worst tornado-related damage he’s ever seen. As he drove to the site on Saturday morning, he took note of damage stretching more than 150 miles between Bowling Green and Mayfield.
Hickey says disaster relief crews are providing chainsaw assistance as they help people get to their homes and remove trees from homes. “We have teams going out and tarping where there’s roof damage. Trying to protect whatever is left of homes if we can,” he said.
Hickey said for many in Mayfield, repair is not an option.
“Many houses will be condemned and will have to be completely rebuilt,” he said.
A Southern Baptist Send Relief tractor trailer made its way west Dec. 14 from Ashland, Ky., to Mayfield and to Mt. Juliet, Tenn., bringing enough roofing material for 480 homes, Kentucky Today reported.
Disaster Relief chaplains are also on the ground near the most gruesome sights where survivors’ loss is great.
Vande Slonecker is helping to lead the chaplain team as they assess the area and make their first contacts with residents.
“Right now people are having an adrenaline shock. It’s very hard for them to understand what they’re seeing,” she said. In the coming days, she says, adrenaline will wear off and shock will set in as residents will need help to process and comprehend the devastation.
“The reality will set in and the grief will come,” Slonecker said. “It’s our job to say, ‘Yes, you are going through a very rough time, but God is here and He sent us to be here with you, holding your hand, helping you through this the best we can.”
Slonecker is a veteran chaplain and caregiver, having worked disaster response in the Gulf Coast, along the east coast and in Kentucky. She said the devastation is massive because it is so widespread. So many people have lost everything and for those recovering, “the rebuilding process and what is ahead for this town is mammoth compared to some of the places I’ve been.”
Both Hickey and Slonecker agree the greatest way to help recovery efforts is through financial donations. Hickey says organizations like Baptist state conventions and Send Relief will know how to get the aid to the right place and “make sure every dollar given for relief reaches the destination.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Porter serves as associate vice president for convention news at the SBC Executive Committee.)