By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief strategist Mark Wakefield said teams worked throughout the day Monday (March 4) in Lee County as cleanup continued after Sunday’s deadly tornado outbreak.
Access to many areas of the community were restricted as search and rescue continued in the Beauregard community, Wakefield said, but teams were able to tarp some roofs and chainsaw teams worked a few jobs. Wakefield said chaplains were assisting chainsaw teams working with search and rescue, as well as serving at the mortuary team family assistance center.
“We had plenty of volunteers and more coming tomorrow (March 5),” Wakefield said. “We plan to be there prepared to work a full day.” (Information about upcoming disaster relief training opportunities is provided near the end of this post and at https://www.alsbom-gm.org/).
The death toll in Alabama from Sunday’s storms remains at 23, though several residents are still missing, officials said.
In a press conference Monday afternoon, Lee County coroner Bill Harris said 6 of the 23 victims remain unidentified. At least three children, ages 6, 9 and 10, were among those killed. All but one of the victims died on the scene. One died at a local hospital, according to reports.
The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Birmingham said Monday that four tornadoes in Alabama have been confirmed. The strongest was the one that hit Beauregard and Smiths Station. NWS data estimates the tornado was as wide as 1,600 yards and stayed on the ground for almost 27 miles. The tornado’s peak winds are estimated at 170 mph.
All 23 fatalities were in Beauregard, a community in central Lee County. Another 90 injuries were reported.
No fatalities occurred in Smiths Station, though the town’s mayor, Bubba Copeland, told local media that around 25 families lost their homes and the town had a lot of downed trees and power lines.
“Lots of water leaks, lots of gas leaks, so there was definitely not something compared to what Beauregard had,” Copeland said. “Our prayers are going to the people of Beauregard.”
After surveying damage in Eufaula on Monday, the NWS upgraded the tornado that hit there to an EF-2. Eufaula’s airport was heavily damaged, with some 21 planes destroyed. A fire station was also damaged. No injuries were reported in the area, but the damage estimate is close to $100 million, officials said.
Two other tornadoes, one south of Tuskegee in Macon County and another in Barbour County, also were confirmed by the NWS, which noted that all estimates are preliminary at this point as surveys continue in the affected areas.
Donations poured into the area to the point that Lee County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) donation centers were full and were no longer accepting donations.
“We have been truly blessed with all the donations people have made,” local officials posted to Facebook. “We thank you all for your love and support and will continue to need it in the coming weeks.”
Those wishing to help were encouraged to make monetary donations or to help with debris cleanup.
Lee County EMA said a Volunteer Reception Center would be set up March 6 in the Smiths Station area for volunteers unaffiliated with a relief organization. Details of the volunteer process will be posted to the Lee County EMA website (www.leecoema.com) and social media pages.
Unaffiliated volunteers and first responders not requested by a Lee County response agency were urged to call 211 to register before deploying to Lee County.
“Someone from Lee County will contact you and establish your staging area and on scene contact. Please do not self-deploy,” urged officials.
First Baptist Church, Prattville, encouraged church members and others who want to help to give monetary donations at https://sbdr.org/donate/ or to purchase gift cards to 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.
Cookie Baker, a chaplain with Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief, said she has given out many gift cards in disaster areas.
“The families are so very thankful for them,” she said. “You may not think that $25.00 is much but you should see how thankful a family is when you give them a card or two, as needed due to their circumstances.”
Gift cards can be sent to local Baptist associations or to the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, Attn: Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 681970, Prattville, Alabama 36068-1970.
Donations to ongoing disaster relief ministry may be made by check (note “Alabama Disaster Relief” on the check) at the same address or online at https://sbdr.org/donate/.
In addition, Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief has several upcoming training opportunities for volunteers wishing to become credentialed.
Training for those interested in administrative, communications or childcare work will be held March 9. Training for those interested in chaplaincy, mass feeding, chainsaw and mudout work will be held April 4-6. Shower and laundry unit training will be held April 13. All trainings will be held at the Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief Center, 118 Jesse Samuel Hunt Blvd., Prattville.
For more information or to register, go to https://www.alsbom-gm.org/.