Southern Baptist volunteers were hard at work over the weekend, helping put lives back together following deadly storms that struck the Southeast last week. At least nine people died, homes were destroyed and thousands were without power following several tornadoes that hit the region.
In Alabama, Davey Lyon spent a lot of time flipping burgers. He and around 20 volunteers have been serving food from his church’s pull-behind grill to the people of Selma in the aftermath of a tornado that hit their city Jan. 12.
“It’s pretty bad in Selma. Think of Tuscaloosa, just on a smaller scale,” said Lyon, pastor of Imago Dei Church at the 45 in nearby Lowndes County, referring to the tornado that tore through the middle of Tuscaloosa in 2011. “In Selma, it started on the west end and came all the way through town.”
Huge trees are down, houses are destroyed and power is out for many in the city.
Lyon said looking at the damage, “it’s only by God’s grace that there aren’t hundreds of casualties.”
Putting lives back together
And the people of Selma know that, he said. His wife, Amber, said as she talked to people in the community, they’re just grateful to be alive and thankful for the people who are coming in to help them put their lives back together.
That includes Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief teams who are working hard to clear neighborhoods and fill job requests.
Mark Wakefield, state disaster relief strategist, said volunteers have gotten a lot of traction in their first couple of days and are making good progress.
“Selma is an old town with big trees, and that’s slowing them down a little,” he said. “But they’re getting it done.”
Hard-hit areas receiving help
Wakefield said Elkdale Baptist Church is a “phenomenal host” for teams as a command center. Teams from Walker, St. Clair, Pickens, Colbert Lauderdale, Shelby and North Jefferson Baptist associations as well as others have been working and will continue to work there this week.
He said teams are also working in the hard-hit areas of Autauga, Elmore, Coosa and Tallapoosa counties.
Lyon and other volunteers have been helping to feed the teams in Selma, along with Alabama Power employees and Selma residents who need a hot meal. He said God recently provided the church with the pull-behind grill and other equipment they’ve been able to use this week.
‘Hands and feet of Jesus’
And he’s seen God meet their needs too as they’ve grilled. The night the tornado hit, he bought $700 worth of food, and he had one person bring him $200 and another person $500 without him asking or disclosing the total cost of food to either of them.
“We made 180 boxes and got those out that first day (Jan. 13),” Lyon said.
After giving out that food, he went back to Sam’s to buy food for the next day and doubled the amount — around $1,300 of food.
“Then I got a text from a guy we were able to give some food to that day, and he said his company wanted to cover it,” Lyon said. “God has just provided.”
He said they were able to prepare 400 meal boxes Saturday (Jan. 14), and about $8,000 worth of donations have come in since then from people who have seen the posts on social media and want to help.
“We’ve got enough to do what we did today for another six cookings,” Lyon said, noting they plan to be set up again on Monday. “We just want to meet needs and be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
In Georgia, chainsaw crews from Georgia Baptist churches expect to be busy for three weeks or more helping tornado victims remove trees from their homes and property in Griffin and other hard-hit communities.
They began arriving within hours of the tornado outbreak that’s being blamed for two deaths and widespread property damage.
“It’s bad,” said Dwain Carter, leader of Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief. “There are lots of trees on homes. It’s a major tornado zone.”
Along with the chainsaw crews, Carter has deployed chaplains, damage assessors and volunteers to man a feeding station, showers and a mobile laundromat. They’re staging at Union Baptist Church in Griffin for a mobilization that could last up to a month.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said first responders worked Thursday and Friday (Jan. 12–13) to rescue families from collapsed homes.
“We know people that were stranded in homes where literally the whole house collapsed, and they were under the crawl space,” Kemp said in a briefing for reporters on Friday.
Kemp said the storm system caused damage across the state. Some of the worst damage, he said, was in Troup County near the Alabama line where more than 100 homes were damaged there and at least 12 people were taken to the hospital.
Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director James Stallings said a 5-year-old in Butts County was killed when a tree fell on the vehicle the child was riding in; the child’s parent, who was driving, suffered critical injuries.
Kemp said a Georgia Department of Transportation worker also was killed while responding to storm damage.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Grace Thornton, with reporting by Roger Alford, The Christian Index.