Tornadoes hit southeast U.S.; members, missionaries safe

In the wake of Alabama's deadliest disaster, Church members and missionaries are safe, offering assistance to hundreds of tornado victims.

Tornadoes - which touched down April 8 near Birmingham, Ala., and ripped through four counties - killed 32 people, injured more than 220, damaged 1,023 houses and destroyed businesses, a school and a church.Although the home of one member family, owned by David and Regina Hennard, was destroyed, no members or missionaries were injured or killed during the devastating tornados.

The same storm is also blamed for nine deaths in Georgia, one in Mississippi and one in North Carolina - where all Church members are also reported safe.

In Alabama, the storm measured F-5 on the Fujita Scale used by the National Weather Service. This is the highest rating, reserved for tornadoes that reach about 260 miles per hour.

Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy and president of the North America Southeast Area visited Alabama and Georgia April 10-11.

He met with the Hennards, members of the Bessemer Alabama Stake, who were attending Church meetings when the disaster struck, flattening their home.

"Their absence may have saved their lives," said Ronald Acker, first counselor in the Bessemer Alabama Stake presidency. Pres. Acker, an executive with Alabama Power, has been active in assisting with the restoration of power to the area.

Members of the Birmingham and Bessemer stakes - which were most heavily impacted - worked with the Hennards as they sorted through the wreckage of their home, provided them with clothing, furniture and food, and helped them locate a place to rent. Then they looked for other people to help.

"Barriers and distinctions between churches and other organizations have blurred as the entire community has come together to serve and assist the victims of this natural disaster," said Elder Carmack. "Doctrinal differences have been set aside in favor of love and service."

Elder Carmack noted that the Church has joined with the Salvation Army, Goodwill, American Red Cross, radio and television stations and county and state governments - all marshaled to fight the effects of the devastation.

Jim Tice of the Hoover Ward, Bessemer Alabama Stake, works for a radio station in the area and has also witnessed the outpouring of service from not only Church members, but also entire communities. He delivered Easter baskets, donated to the radio station, to tornado victims most of the day April 11. They had more baskets than people to give them to.

"People want to help," he said. "It is like nothing anyone has ever seen before."

Less than six hours after tornadoes struck Alabama, they hit about 15 miles northeast of Atlanta, Ga., and then again at Fort Stewart, in the Savannah Georgia Stake.

At Fort Stewart, no property of members was damaged. However, more than 20 Church members near Atlanta were among those whose homes were affected by the violent storm.

Duane and Angie Hill, Peachtree Corners Ward, Roswell Georgia Stake, were in their townhouse during the storm. They had moved to the bottom floor when the second story was mostly torn off.

The roof, porch and automobile of Paul and Helen Abamonte, Glenridge Ward, Atlanta Georgia Stake, were damaged when struck with falling trees. Falling trees also affected the home of Tom and Rebecca Middleton, Peachtree Corners Ward, Roswell Georgia Stake - leaving gaping holes and water damage.

"As we visited [all these couples] on the Saturday after the tornado struck, all were cheerful, coping well with their situations," said Elder Carmack. "Ahead will be the remaking of lives and property, but having Church members come quickly to their aid has helped in every way."

Church members in the Atlanta area worked to help victims the weekend after the tornadoes hit. "Their mode of operating was to assist members in and around their homes, then turn to their neighbors in need of similar assistance," said Elder Carmack. ". . . A spirit of pioneer industry and cooperation filled the air."

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