Published March 15, 2007
DULUTH — Nine Georgians died, five Georgia Baptist churches were severely damaged, and an associational office destroyed in a round of storms and tornados that passed through the state on March 1. Hardest hit were Americus and Columbus in central Georgia and Thomson near Augusta.
The storm came on the heels of a major storm system that raked parts of three states and took the lives of 20 people, eight of them at a high school in Enterprise, Ala. It was the first major storm of the spring season.
Georgia Baptist disaster relief teams have been working the affected areas and are expected to remain onsite for at least three weeks, said disaster relief coordinator Stuart Lang. Cleanup and recovery teams have been in all three locations, with feeding units ministering in Americus and Columbus. Bob Sprinkle of Hinesville reported that the state’s childcare unit has been operating out of the Disaster Relief Center in Americus where damage was heaviest.
Following is a breakdown of damage received by Georgia Baptist churches in the affected areas.
• Hugh DeLoach, associate pastor of Central Baptist Church, reported considerable damage resulting from destruction of an outbuilding where motor vehicles were occasionally housed, destruction of the steeple that allowed water to pour into the sanctuary, and a back wall of the sanctuary separating from the building;
• Cheek Memorial Baptist Church, where Houston Berry is pastor, suffered severe roof and interior damage to the educational building, newly remodeled fellowship hall, and parsonage; steeple ripped from sanctuary roof; early estimates placed the damage at about $400,000;
• the Friendship Baptist Association building was totally destroyed. Charles Stoops is director of missions.
• Wynnbrook Baptist Church, where Brad Hicks serves as senior pastor, had considerable damage including the loss of two recently purchased buses that were rolled across the lot; roof and water damage to all of its buildings; Dogwood Lodge, which was to host a group of 100 youth later that evening, completely destroyed;
• Calvary Baptist Church, about a mile from Wynnbrook, received extensive damage including a back wall of the sanctuary which was sucked out rendering the building unusable, two walls of the two-year-old gym which were blown away, and outdoor sports complex completely destroyed. However, the church’s senior adult retirement village and assisted living facility were untouched. Don Wilhite is senior pastor.
In Thomson, 90-minutes east of Atlanta:
• New Hope Baptist Church suffered considerable damage, with the back wall of the educational wing pulled away and half of the sanctuary windows blown out. Heavy winds blew out all nursery furniture and windows, destroyed the kitchen roof, and pulled out most of the drop ceiling panels. Five personal vehicles were totaled with a dumpster rolled against one vehicle. In addition, a 60-passenger bus was damaged and moved 25 feet with all windows blown out, resulting in heavy water damage. Allen Holbrook is pastor.
Leonard Dupree, who retired as director of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Church Minister Relations department in 2004, told The Index that a storm caused considerable damage to New Hope and homes in the community.
Dupree, who serves as interim at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Washington, said Thomson was without power for nearly 12 hours following the storm.
Allen Holbrook, pastor of New Hope, said it was a miracle that about a half-dozen individuals in the church at the time were not killed or seriously injured. A Bible study was just concluding when the fast-moving storm hit around 8:30 p.m., he told The Index on late in the evening March 3.
Randy Martin and his wife, Phyllis, were prayer walking the building in Kilpatrick Association when the storm hit.
“The lights went off and then came back on, giving us a false sense of security. Then it hit so fast we didn’t have time to do anything. Phyllis said she heard a sound like a freight train but that train wasn’t blowing any whistle.”
Martin said it felt like the storm lasted 45 minutes but it was probably no longer than 15 seconds.
“We heard the steel building coming apart around us, twisting 24-inch I-beams like pretzels.”
Linda Lively was teaching a Celebrate Recovery Bible study in a classroom when her daughter called to warn her of an approaching tornado that had been spotted in the area, but she didn’t expect it to stay on the ground. Five minutes later, it hit the church.
“Rebecca Smith, one of the women in our group, had just entered the room with her year-old baby that she had picked up from the nursery. Within a minute or two the nursery was completely destroyed. It hit so fast we just squatted down and started prayin’,” she said.
“God had his arms all over us that night. After it was all over we were amazed that the baby’s life had been spared while one of the men’s wallets in the room with us had been pulled out of his pocket. I don’t know if he ever found it,” she says.
Multiple locations hit
The church planned to hold a brief worship service on Sunday, thanks to power provided by some generators.
In Americus, director of missions Charles Stoops waded through blocks of damage and twisted debris to reach the site of the associational building. It was a pile of rubble.
“The insurance adjuster told me [on the telephone] to make sure and secure all the openings. I don’t think he quite understood the damage here,” he said.
“I was able to get our stuff out se we could get on to helping other people. I was able to get the historical records and the hard drives from the computers and the checkbook. I only had about 45 minutes to get out of there,” said Stoops, who has been on staff only since October.
“We’re going to be OK. I’ve already had offers to set up an office in several churches. We’ll rebuild and we can find a place to work in the meantime. The churches and homes are in much worse shape than we are.”
Early disaster responders included:
• In Columbus, two cleanup and recovery teams – GA 13R from Noonday Association in Marietta and GA 10R from West Metro Association in Douglasville. Lang said Don Grissom is supervising the work. A feeding unit is also staged at Schomburg Road Baptist Church.
• In Americus, in addition to the childcare unit, Communications unit GA 5C, a statewide unit, is staged at Southland Academy adjacent to Central Baptist Church. It is operating as N4GBC on the 3.865 and 7.260 frequencies. Feeding unit GA 9F from the Southeast Region is also operating in the area. Jack Segars is overseeing the Americus operation.
• In Roberta, feeding unit GA 1F from Rehoboth Association in Roberta used 14 volunteers to serve 439 meals on March 2 (the day after the tornado), 18 volunteers served 860 meals on March 3, and 16 volunteers served 260 meals on March 4. Ronnie Clements is overseeing the operation.
• In Thomson, cleanup and recovery unit GA 4R from Hephzibah Association in Wrens and feeding unit GA 2F from Kilpatrick Association in Thompson worked for three days before shutting down.
In a non-related geographical area, feeding unit GA 11F from Stone Mountain Association in Conyers/Covington is in Panama City, Fla., serving meals for the annual Beach Reach emphasis.
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