At least five people were killed and hundreds of homes — and at least two churches — were destroyed or damaged when tornadoes struck several Alabama communities on March 25.
The deaths occurred in Calhoun County in east Alabama, where Ohatchee, Wellington and nearby communities were struck.
Calhoun Baptist Association Director of Missions Roger Willmore said one church in the association, Wellington First Baptist Church, was “totally destroyed.” It is the second time the church has been hit by a tornado. On April 27, 2011, the church suffered severe damage as the structure was rocked on its foundation, causing the backside of the building to fall off. That tornado also ripped away much of the church’s roof. The rebuilding project following the 2011 tornadoes was completed in late 2012.
Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said the twister cut a diagonal path across the county, striking mostly rural areas — something that likely kept the death toll from being higher, he said.
Shelby County also took a direct hit from Thursday’s storms. Dozens of homes were damaged in the Eagle Point subdivision near US 280. Oak Mountain State Park received extensive tree damage.
Bibb County received extensive storm damage throughout the county. In Centreville in Bibb County, a tornado destroyed several homes and the Centreville airport.
Ashby Baptist Church, Brierfield, also was damaged. Ashby was one of five Bibb County churches set on fire in a string of arsons in 2006.
Chilton and Coosa counties experienced damage late in the day as a final round of storms moved through the state and into Georgia, where one person was killed in Newnan, according to news reports.
Brian Hastings, head of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, said at least 200 homes were destroyed in the storms. Alabama Power reports some 24,000 power outages statewide as of 9 a.m. March 26, primarily in 10 central Alabama counties.
The National Weather Service issued a rare “tornado emergency” on Thursday afternoon and described the storms as “long-lived” tornadic supercells. The NWS estimates the tornado that hit Shelby County before moving into Talladega County was on the ground for about 100 miles.
The NWS is conducting surveys today (March 26), a process that will take a while due to the extensive damage.
Mark Wakefield, Disaster Relief strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said assessment is ongoing. At least three command centers are in the works, and others may be set up as needed.
For the Shelby County area, a command center will operate out of Indian Springs First Baptist Church. In Calhoun County, Hillcrest Baptist Church will serve as a command center. The Bibb Association office will serve as a command center for the Centreville area. Huffman Baptist Church is a command center for northeast Birmingham.
How to request help
Local chainsaw teams are already at work in affected areas. ABDR is taking requests for assistance through its online portal, https://sbdr.org/. Completing the form is not a guarantee of service, Wakefield said, but it can help get the process moving for affected residents.
All Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief teams and volunteers are on alert as the assessment phase begins, Wakefield said. Volunteers are encouraged to stay in touch with their local Disaster Relief team leaders for guidance on deployment and volunteer opportunities.
Wakefield urged those in non-affected areas to carefully consider material donations, since many areas will not have storage or capacity to organize and distribute largescale donations of food, water, clothing or other items.
“Don’t flood the place with donations unless you have a specific request,” Wakefield said.
How to provide help
Those who wish to help residents of affected areas can give monetary donations at https://sbdr.org/donate/ or by mail to Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 681970, Prattville, Alabama 36068-1970. 100% of donations through ABDR go directly to help victims of tornadoes and other disasters. No funds are withheld for administration costs.
In past disasters, community officials have urged those wishing to help to purchase gift cards that can be distributed to those who live in tornado-affected areas.
Gift cards from home improvement stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot or retailers like Walmart or grocery stores in the affected areas are encouraged because they allow residents to purchase what they need.
Contact your church or association ABDR team to see what specific needs they have, Wakefield advised.
Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief has several upcoming training opportunities for volunteers wishing to become credentialed.
UPCOMING DISASTER RELIEF TRAINING
Baptist Church at McAdory, 4954 Eastern Valley Rd., McCalla
- April 15–17
Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief Center, 118 Jesse Samuel Hunt Boulevard, Prattville
- March 27 — Communications
- March 27 — Shower and laundry
- April 8–10 — Chaplain
- April 9 — Cleanup and recovery
- April 9–10 — Chainsaw
- April 9–10 — Mass Feeding
Register and find more information at sbdr.org/events.