AFTER tornadoes hit Alabama and Georgia, USA, on 3 March 2019, The Salvation Army’s well-rehearsed emergency response swung into action. The worst storm struck around Beauregard, in Lee County, about 60 miles (95 kilometres) east of Alabama’s state capital, Montgomery, with tornadoes carving a path of destruction at least half a mile (0.8 km) wide. At time of writing, 23 people are known to have lost their lives, with many more people injured or left with significant damage to their homes or businesses.
The Salvation Army’s Lee County Service Center activated swiftly. In the immediate hours following the storm, The Salvation Army provided 200 meals to first responders. Lieutenants Bryan and Tonya Farrington from Montgomery Corps (Salvation Army church) also deployed to the area on Sunday evening with an emergency canteen, assisting the local Service Extension Center Director. Currently, The Salvation Army has deployed a total of seven mobile feeding units to provide hot meals, snacks and beverages to affected areas.
An incident command team, led by Major William Shafer, is coordinating the response from the nearby city of Opelika.
‘We stand ready to provide hope and comfort to this community which has lost so much in this devastating storm,’ said Terry Lightheart, Divisional Director of Emergency Disaster Services for The Salvation Army’s Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi Division.
In addition to tending to the physical needs of those affected, The Salvation Army is providing emotional and spiritual care, which is expected to be a significant need in the wake of this especially deadly disaster. The US National Weather Service reports that more tornado deaths occurred from this single incident than throughout all of 2018. Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones says there had been ‘catastrophic’ damage and there are fears that more bodies would be found.
After further tornadoes hit Columbus and Cairo in neighbouring Georgia, canteens from Columbus, Newnan, and Bainbridge have been activated to assist with service delivery. The corps kitchens from Columbus and Thomasville Corps will be cooking meals for delivery, and Thomasville Corps is providing assistance at a shelter in Cairo.
USA Southern Territorial Commander Commissioner Willis Howell said: ‘The scenes of destruction and devastation in eastern Alabama are overwhelming. Sadly, due to where we sit geographically, we … have more than our share of experience with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and other weather-related tragedies. While there are unmistakable similarities to these events, they are also highly personalised for us as our officers, soldiers and volunteers inevitably see each disaster through the lens of those we serve.’
He described The Salvation Army’s work in ‘taking in people who now have nowhere to go’, and – thanking Salvationists and friends around the world who are supporting the emergency response team – prayed: ‘May we continue to faithfully and sensitively leverage every opportunity to bless others’.
Report by Hanna Karlsson