Devastating storms hit the Southeast on Thursday (Jan. 12), leaving at least 8 dead, thousands of people without power and some without homes. Meanwhile, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are assessing damage and responding to those in need of help.
A storm system surprised Alabamians with two dozen tornadoes, killing seven people and destroying homes, businesses and churches in different parts of the state. At least one fatality was also reported in Georgia when a tree fell on a vehicle during the storm and killed a passenger. By Thursday evening, there were 33 separate tornadoes nationwide reported from the National Weather Service. Storms also reportedly led to thousands of power outages in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Both Alabama and Georgia have declared state of emergencies.
Significant destruction in Selma, Alabama
In Selma, Alabama, at least two churches were damaged by one large tornado that ripped through the heart of the city. Crosspoint Christian Church, which suffered extensive damage, had its day care and preschool in session when the tornado hit, with about 70 children from six weeks to 5 years old in the building. There were no serious injuries; only one baby had a small cut on her cheek and forehead, according to ABC 33/40 meteorologist James Spann’s Facebook page. Fairview Baptist Church in Selma also lost its steeple and suffered roof damage.
Selma has significant damage on a long track from west Highway 22 through the city going northeast and beyond, according to Mark Wakefield, Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief strategist. Two teams were out the day of the storms to help clear the roads.
Wadsworth Baptist Church north of Marbury also lost its worship center, and its other building was heavily damaged, Wakefield said.
Disaster Relief volunteers are already at work in some areas and organizing in others, Wakefield noted.
In Tallapoosa Baptist Association, volunteers were working Jan. 12 to set up an incident command center at the associational office that would be the hub for work at the homes in that area.
“We are working to establish a location in Dallas County to work the Selma area also,” Wakefield said. “It’s a pretty significant operation at this point.”
Volunteers in Autauga County were out helping with search and rescue in the hours following the storms. At least 20 homes were damaged or destroyed in the area, and all six confirmed fatalities in the state happened there.
Starting Friday (Jan. 13), Wakefield said, he expects Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief teams to be working in all areas with damage around the state.
Reports from Georgia
In Georgia, Disaster Relief crews were surveying damage as soon as the dangerous weather had passed, preparing to send in chainsaw teams and other volunteers to help with cleanup if needed. Media reports showed roofs blown off homes and walls toppled on box stores.
In the same county southeast of Atlanta, where a passenger was killed by a falling tree, the storm appeared to have knocked a freight train off its tracks, officials said.
More updates will be provided as information is available.