President Trump visits storm-ravaged Ala., relief volunteers

By Brandon Elrod

BEAUREGARD, Ala.—United States President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visited storm-ravaged Lee County, Alabama on Friday (Mar. 8) in the aftermath of an EF-4 tornado that killed 23 people.

After disembarking from Air Force One, Trump met with Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, telling her that he had seen “unbelievable” destruction during his flight, according to The New York Times.

The President traveled to Beauregard, Ala. and toured the area on the ground, shaking hands, visiting survivors and witnessing the destruction. Trump and the First Lady also paused to view the 23 crosses set up to memorialize the victims.

President Donald Trump visited privately with several family members who lost loved ones in the March 3 Tornado that hit Lee County, Ala., and Rusty Sowell, senior pastor of Providence Baptist Church, prior to addressing survivors and volunteers in the church’s sanctuary. Photo by Sam Porter.

Along with touring the damaged area, Trump also met with volunteers at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, which has been used as a staging area for the response.

Trump visited privately with several family members who lost loved ones and Rusty Sowell, senior pastor of Providence Baptist Church, prior to addressing survivors and volunteers.

Many gathered inside the church to hear from the President who visited survivors and thanked first responders and volunteers for their efforts to help the community. Trump and Melania signed hats and other memorabilia for those who asked.

Alabama Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chainsaw teams have been hard at work clearing downed trees felled during an EF-4 tornado that hit Lee County, Ala., on Sunday, March 3. Photo by Sam Porter.

Sam Porter, national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) director with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), was in the room while the President spoke with survivors. Porter stated that between 150 and 200 people were in the room.

“Anytime a sitting President visits a disaster area, it encourages the people of the community and reminds survivors that they’re not forgotten,” Porter said. “Visits like these also energize volunteers as they serve and minister following devastating storms.”

Sowell opened the church’s campus to be the major gathering point following the tornado. The church’s worship center was transformed into a distribution center where supplies were given to hundreds of individuals who have lost their homes.

Alabama’s SBDR team also set up their incident command center in the Providence Baptist Church facility. There, volunteers received calls and information from residents in need of relief work.

Mark Wakefield (left), disaster relief strategist for Alabama Baptists, shares the gospel with a homeowner. Wakefield has been providing tireless support in the days following the storm, directing Alabama’s response and sharing the gospel with survivors. Photo by Sam Porter.

SBDR chainsaw and heavy equipment teams have been aiding homeowners in Lee County where fierce wind, downed trees and other debris destroyed homes and damaged property. Laundry units have been set up to help survivors wash their clothes.

Chaplains have been providing spiritual and emotional care for those who have lost loved ones.

Mark Wakefield, disaster relief strategist for Alabama Baptists, has been providing tireless support in the days following the storm, directing Alabama’s response and sharing the gospel with survivors.

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.
MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.

A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.

Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.

“It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth,” Carlson said. “When you go downtown, you’ll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.

“On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There’s really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren’t livable,” Carlson said.

The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.

Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town’s courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.

A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF-3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.

SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.

“[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, ‘What makes you do this for no charge?’ that’s when you’ve earned the right to share the Gospel.”

The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.

Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.

“Pray for all the people who live here,” Carlson said. “A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here.”

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.,

Published March 8, 2019