Much of the rest of the nation has moved on from the news of last weekend’s deadly twisters in Alabama.
But for the residents of Lee County, ground zero in Sunday’s tornado activity that killed at least 23, it continues to be a daily struggle and tragedy.
“The folks I’m meeting with over there say they still have seven people they are looking for,” Paul McLendon, disaster response coordinator for Alabama CBF, said Wednesday morning. “They don’t know if they’re safe, out of the area or under the debris.”
McLendon was on his way to the region to meet with local pastors and a Red Cross official to ascertain local needs for eventual long-term recovery efforts.
“In the areas where it touched down it’s pretty much complete devastation. It was such a force that it blew everything away,” McLendon said.
At the state and national levels, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is marshaling resources to help victims recover over the long haul.
CBF announced Tuesday it’s partnering with Alabama CBF, First Baptist Church of Auburn and Volunteers of America. CBF Disaster Response also is working to provide financial assistance.
McLendon, who works for Volunteers of America SE, also helped implement a plan to deliver requested items to first responders. CBF Disaster Response approved a $5,000 grant to the stage organization for immediate and long-term recovery needs.
So far, there have been no reports of CBF churches or church members directly affected by the violent weather, officials said. But many of them do know people who were impacted.
“I have talked to a lot of families who work with somebody or know someone near to them” who suffered losses of some kind, said Tripp Martin, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Auburn.
Even those who don’t know anyone affected are expressing concern.
“Folks are calling to say ‘I heard about so-and-so, is there something we can do?’”
Local congregations of various denominations have been banding together to serve as drop-off points for donated materials, and in some cases to then distribute them. Martin said his church is serving as a staging location for items delivered by Alabama CBF.
Martin added that the timing of the tragedy, just before Ash Wednesday, has not been lost on some.
“It’s that sobering thought that life is fragile, and it reminds us how sacred life is,” he said. “It reminds us we want to use our lives as a gift.”
Local churches are playing a chaplaincy role for the entire county, because there isn’t a whole lot that can be done until first responders clear the area.
“It has been mostly about a ministry of listening and assessment,” Martin said.
While more assessment is needed, McLendon added that it’s likely CBF’s role will be in the repair and rebuilding of homes, and in building some from scratch.
“The big issues here will be where will these folks be living in the coming months and coming years?” he said. “Many of those who have sustained damaged are without insurance.”
Donations to victims and relief efforts can be made to CBF online or by mail to:
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
P.O. Box 102972
Atlanta, GA 30368-2972
Include “Tornado Relief – 17005” on the memo line.