In all, killer tornadoes claimed 350 lives in six states. In addition to Alabama's fatalities, the death toll from other southern states was 34 in Mississippi, 34 in Tennessee, 15 in Georgia, five in Virginia and 14 in Arkansas.
SBDR feeding units have prepared and delivered more than 33,000 hot meals since April 27. Alabama feeding units are currently operating in Rainsville, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, while Kentucky Baptist Convention volunteers are feeding victims in Henager and Florida Baptist volunteers are feeding in Double Springs. A Texas feeding unit also is deployed in Tuscaloosa, the hardest-hit city in Alabama, and a South Carolina kitchen is feeding in Huntsville.
Thirteen shower units from Alabama -- offering victims and volunteers shower facilities and washers and dryers for laundry -- have been mobilized in Pleasant Grove, Jasper, Vance, Moulton, Coker, Russellville, Hoover, Wellington, Ashville, Rainsville, Montgomery and Cottondale.
Bill Carter and Fred Kornegay, representing Alabama's Coosa Baptist Association, manned a shower unit with six stalls and four washers and dryers at Oak Grove Baptist Church in the Wellington/Glencoe area, where pastor Rick Luallen led a special worship service outside, although the 161-year-old church received only minor roof damage.
However, about one mile south down U.S. 431, Mamre Baptist Church's two-year-old building was practically gutted by the tornado. The two churches will hold joint Sunday services for the foreseeable future.
"I believe God wanted us to have it outside and be accessible to the community," said Luallen, who preached to about 80 people under two green cemetery tents. As if the church members needed a reminder, close by was a large oak tree felled by the tornado and a giant pine tree broken off at a 45-degree angle.
As the aroma of barbecue wafted through the crowd, Luallen closed the service by extending an invitation. As a woman on a portable keyboard played "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior," a dozen crying men and women -- some of whom lost everything in the tornado -- knelt on blankets used as a makeshift altar.
"Our church name got blown away," Luallen said, pointing to the hole in the nearby sign in front of Oak Grove church. "But the cross is still up there. At night, we're putting a floodlight on the cross."
John Thomas, director of missions for Calhoun County Baptist Association in Anniston, said the tornadoes devastated that northeast Alabama county from one end to the other.
"Chainsaw crews are out trying to do all they can to help homeowners," Thomas said, adding that larger area churches such as Parker Memorial, Greenbriar and Grace Baptist churches in Anniston, First Baptist in Oxford and First Baptist in Jacksonville are shouldering much of the load for the response in the Calhoun County area.
Another 50 disaster relief teams from Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Michigan, Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida and Texas are converging at a staging area in Ashville, Ala., where they will be deployed to various tornado-affected sites, said Bruce Poss, disaster relief unit coordinator at the North American Mission Board's disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga.
According to SBDR reports, more than 45 Southern Baptist churches in Alabama were destroyed or suffered damages from last Wednesday's historic tornadoes.
Charles Watson, a SBDR leader from Central, La., near Baton Rouge, said five chaplains, six damage assessors and 21 chainsaw teams arrived in Geraldine, Ala., last Friday night. He expects another 30 volunteers to show up in this small northeast Alabama town this week, for a total of 60 just from Louisiana. They're using First Baptist Church-Geraldine as their base.
Larry Murphy and Kyle Jeffreys, DR leaders from Enterprise, Ala., said 22 feeding unit volunteers cranked out some 10,000-11,000 meals at Rainsville's Broadway Baptist Church over the weekend.
"We brought 3,000 meals with us," Murphy said. "We had tractor trailers of ice and water donated from Kentucky and Tyson Foods. We'll be here at least another week. Power is coming back on and that takes the pressure off the feeding operation."
Alan Reese, an assessment volunteer from the Marshall County Baptist Association in nearby Guntersville, is working with Louisiana chainsaw teams.
"We've been in neighborhoods where there's nothing we can do because everything is gone -- total destruction," Reese said. "Our primary focus is 'Priority Ones,' places with trees on houses or driveways. There's plenty of work to do -- not only here in Rainsville but on jobs in Albertville and Arab. We're covering a pretty big area, just trying to find chainsaw jobs that will give people hope."
Ken Clements, director of missions for the DeKalb County Baptist Association in Rainsville, said 38 people were killed in DeKalb County.
"Mountain View Baptist Church in rural DeKalb County was totally destroyed, but they had 200 people in the worship service today ," Clements said. "Gov. Bentley was there.
"We're just telling Southern Baptists that this is your Cooperative Program dollars at work!" Clements said.
Rainsville resident Roger Bouldin, himself a Southern Baptist and member of nearby Fyffe Baptist Church, was grateful for Kenny Hester of Pine Ridge, Ala., and the other five members of the Alabama chainsaw team who took a large oak tree off his house yesterday.
"They've done a great job and I'm tickled to death," said Bouldin, whose home was largely undamaged by the tornado. "It came through here about 6 p.m. Wednesday night, and we took off to the basement. It was really scary. But a lot of people had it a lot rougher than we did."
Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to NAMB's disaster relief fund can go to www.namb.net and click the "donate now" button. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Checks should be designated for "Southern Storms 2011." Donations also can be sent via texting "NAMBDR" to the number "40579." A one-time donation of $10 will be added to the caller's mobile phone bill or deducted from any prepaid balance.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.
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