As volunteers and donations poured into Lee County following a deadly tornado outbreak on March 3, Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief (ABDR) teams joined volunteers from several agencies in the recovery effort.
“I’ve seen a tremendous number of volunteers out here helping from the community and from far away,” said Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief strategist Mark Wakefield. “That’s not uncommon after a storm, but the number of deaths has touched people deeply, and they’ve rallied from many places to help.”
Wakefield said the destruction in the Beauregard community of Lee County is “as bad as anything I’ve ever seen.” Preliminary data from the National Weather Service (NWS) indicates six tornadoes struck on March 3: the EF-4 tornado that hit Beauregard/Smiths Station with winds up to 170 mph; an EF-2 tornado in Macon/Lee counties with winds up to 115 mph; two EF-2 tornado touchdowns in Barbour County; and EF-0 tornadoes that touched down briefly in Autauga and Bullock counties.
Twenty-three people were killed in Beauregard, and 91 were injured, according to the NWS report. Alabama Power reported on March 6 that crews had restored power to all homes that could receive it, but an official estimated that at least 116 homes were destroyed or so severely damaged that crews cannot restore power until they are repaired or replaced.
Disaster relief teams from the local area worked throughout the week, Wakefield said. Chainsaw units cleared trees and tarped roofs in Lee and Barbour counties, and volunteers assisted March 4–5 with feeding units set up by the Salvation Army. Chaplains were embedded with various teams and at the family reunification center and temporary morgue. And when local emergency management officials realized the great need for laundry services, ABDR set up laundry units and got to work washing clothes.
“This community is like most in Alabama,” Wakefield said. “Everyone has rallied to help each other.”
Wakefield praised the efforts of Providence Baptist Church, where ABDR set up headquarters for the week.
“[Pastor] Rusty Sowell and that church have done a phenomenal job of supporting the community through the receiving and giving of donations, providing meals and getting other recovery agents in,” Wakefield said.
Sowell noted the professional expertise of many in his congregation and how they were already equipped to help in a crisis. “We moved quickly to get organized and then I got out of the way to let everyone take care of their assignments,” he said. “We have a committed group of people here at Providence. I’m very proud of all their hard work.”
President Trump visited Providence Baptist on March 8 to pay his respects to the victims and their families and thank those involved in disaster relief work.
Because of the multiple-agency disaster response in the area, a statewide callout of disaster relief teams was not necessary, but Wakefield said he was grateful for the willingness of volunteers throughout the state to come to the area.
He also noted that some associational teams were being asked to aid Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association in mudout and flood recovery work following heavy rains throughout North Alabama that led to flooding in neighborhoods in Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals.
As the immediate disaster relief response in Lee County winds down, Tuskegee-Lee Baptist Association director of missions Bill King said the next phase is uncertain.
“Honestly, we’ve not been able to think that far down the road,” he said at press time.
King said donations to the association have allowed them to help displaced families, including the family of A.J. Hernandez, the youngest victim of the tornado.
How to help
Gift cards are especially helpful in disaster relief situations because they allow families to buy for their specific needs. Gift cards for Lee County disaster relief may be sent to Tuskegee-Lee Baptist Association, 2110 Gateway Drive, Opelika, Alabama 36801.
Donations for disaster relief efforts in Lee and Barbour counties, may be sent to the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, Attn: Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 681970, Prattville, Alabama 36068, or made online at sbdr.org/donate.
If you would like to give directly to the Alabama Baptist church serving as the command center, then visit Providence Baptist’s website at providencealive.com and click on the “donate” button on the home page.
In addition, Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief has several upcoming training opportunities for volunteers wishing to become credentialed. For more information or to register, go to https://www.alsbom-gm.org.
Donations for disaster relief efforts may be sent to the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions or made online at sbdr.org/donate.
Retired Illinois carpenter builds, delivers crosses for tornado victims
After being in his workshop for more than 30 hours straight Greg Zanis’ job was done.
According to a news report by WSFA 12, he loaded up his truck with 23 crosses — each personalized with the name of a victim of the March 3 tornado in Lee County — and drove nearly 1,000 miles from Illinois to Providence Baptist Church, Opelika.
Zanis, with Crosses for Losses, has made crosses for more than 26,000 lives lost in natural and man-made disasters, including Columbine High School, Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon and the Campfire Fire. “I do this because this is exactly what Jesus would do if He were alive today,” Zanis told WSFA 12 News.
A group of chaplains gathered around his truck to pray over the victims of the tornadoes and the ministry efforts taking place. Then Zanis gave them specific instructions.
“Don’t carry this over your shoulder,” he said. “This is a representation of someone’s family member. Hold the cross facing forward anyway you want to carry it.” (TAB)
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