Another wave of deadly tornadoes over the weekend kept Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams in the South and the Midwest on the move after 11 states were impacted, and at least 32 deaths have been confirmed. Volunteers in Oklahoma were also responding to wildfires reported on Friday (March 31).
Wes Jones, Disaster Relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said volunteers on Saturday (April 1) were assessing the damage from tornadoes the night before, to gauge the full extent of damage across the state. In McNairy County, located about 100 miles east of Memphis, 9 of the state’s 15 deaths were reported, according to the latest reports.
“We have assessors going to the hardest hit areas as soon as possible. Some areas, such as Covington, are still impassable,” Jones told the Baptist and Reflector.
The storms that hit the state were part of a larger system that swept across the central and southern portions of the U.S. Arkansas and Indiana each reported five fatalities, while Illinois reported four. Alabama, Delaware and Mississippi also reported fatalities, according to the latest reports. Nearly 450,000 customers were without power across the U.S due to the storms, according to a tracking site.
Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief has deployed volunteers across Arkansas to aid in relief and recovery efforts following the severe thunderstorms and tornadoes that tore through the state on Friday. About 2,648 structures were impacted, the Arkansas Baptist News reported.
Disaster Relief teams in the state are assisting survivors with mass feeding and chainsaw work. Chaplains and assessors are also on site. DR volunteers from surrounding states are also aiding in relief and recovery efforts, including the Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief, Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief and Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief.
“Please continue to pray for survivors as they navigate the days ahead and all Disaster Relief volunteers ministering on the scene,” Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief said in a news release.
The Illinois Baptist State Association’s Disaster Relief notified its 400 trained volunteers on Saturday that they will be called to Robinson on the southern border near Terre Haute, Indiana. They were expected to be on the ground as early as Sunday afternoon.
“Assessors and chaplains are to report immediately,” Arnold Ramage, Illinois Baptist DR state director, urged volunteers Saturday morning. The “blue hat” leaders were alerted to notify their teams of storm recovery volunteers, the Illinois Baptist reported.
All of this comes after a violent and active tornado season destroyed much of Rolling Fork, a Mississippi Delta town, killing at least 25 people on March 24.
Wildfires in Oklahoma
Meanwhile in Oklahoma, wildfires spread quickly in north Oklahoma City, Edmond and Guthrie on Friday, causing many to lose their homes, the Oklahoma Baptist messenger reported. Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief supported first responders by providing meals on Friday and Saturday.
Jason Yarbrough, the state’s DR director, reported volunteers would continue helping those affected by the fires, beginning Monday (April 3) with assessors, clean-up and ash-out teams.
“We were able to respond quickly in helping those who were involved with fighting fires and those affected by the fires,” Yarbrough said. “We finished today (April 1) with providing meals, but we will be back at it on Monday to serve and care for those who experienced damage or lost their homes completely.”
Oklahoma DR volunteers also is sending a team of 60 volunteers to Little Rock, to serve areas hit by the tornadoes.
“We have been asked to help prepare 1,500 meals a day with our feeding unit,” Yarbrough said. “We are offering assessor and chaplain teams, as well as chainsaw teams, and we will provide shower and laundry units.”
DR will set up an incident command center at Levy Baptist Church in North Little Rock. “We are planning to be there for three weeks,” he said. “Along with Arkansas Baptists, two other state conventions will be sending DR teams to help those affected by tornadoes.”
Ways to help
For more information on how you can help, check with your church, association or state Baptist convention to find out how they are contributing to ongoing relief efforts in your state and beyond. To contact your state convention to find out how to assist with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, click here. Or, for more information about Send Relief, click here.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was compiled by The Baptist Paper, with reporting from the Arkansas Baptist News, Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector, the Illinois Baptist, and the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger.