SBDR, Providence Church serve well in aftermath of Ala. tornadoes

BEAUREGARD, ALA.—Tornadoes strike with little notice, changing the world in a matter of minutes. For this Alabama town of close to 11,000 residents, they had only 12 minutes to escape the four tornadoes that ripped through the community March 3.

The 23 deaths, ranging in age from 6 to 89, mark Alabama’s deadliest day since the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado in 2011. Emergency crews and residents are still searching for at least 20 missing community members as of March 6.

About 70 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers were on the field March 4 and about 50 SBDR volunteers were serving March 5.

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Mark Wakefield, Alabama SBDR director, said multiple teams of volunteers—including three Alabama Disaster Relief teams, with others on standby—are helping with the search and rescue, tarping roofs and working with chainsaws to clear debris.

“Despite the horrors of such disasters, the community is doing a phenomenal job in rallying to help tornado survivors,” Wakefield said. “Dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of volunteers are here ready to respond. It’s remarkable to be in a place where people take care of each other.”

Southern Baptist chaplains have been, and currently are, offering their services to first responders and families in Beauregard.

“Sometimes tornado survivors just need to talk or need somebody to pray with them,” Wakefield told Baptist Press. “The chaplains are looking to be someone to listen to their story.”

And there is much people may want to discuss.

“It looks as if someone had taken a blade and just scraped the ground,” said Lee County sheriff Jay Jones. “Houses are completely destroyed. Homes are now just basically slabs where homes once stood. The storm left two very wide tracks that went through the area and pushed the remainders of homes over 1,000 yards away from their original places. Its massive damage.”

Sunday night, the basement at Providence Baptist Church in Opelika became a Red Cross shelter hosting 70 to 80 people during and after the storm.

Pastor of Providence Baptist Church, Rusty Sowell—known to everyone in Alabama as “Brother Rusty”—was home with his wife when the sky darkened and the piercing sounds of a tornado warning wailed through the air.

Because of a hurricane that had left the east region in shambles years ago, Providence built a second location with a commercial kitchen, bathrooms with showers, and a generator. Until March 3, it had never been used for natural disaster relief.

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Some residents are anxious, many suffering from P.T.S.D. from the outbreak in 2011. Others are grateful.

Earnestine Reese, who broke her hip in the tornado, was overheard praising God for sparing her life. The 72-year-old resident of Beauregard whose home was destroyed that day barely escaped and is currently recovering from her injury.

“I thank the Lord,” Earnestine said to her niece, Delrico Eiland, who also lost her trailer to the tornado in Beauregard. “He spared my life.”

Josie Rabbitt Bingham writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published March 7, 2019