Aftermath of Alabama tornadoes: Members, missionaries and community help in initial cleanup efforts

Latter-day Saints in the Deep South are no strangers to tornado warnings. Nor to the sound of chainsaws buzzing through fallen trees in a severe storm’s aftermath. 

At least 10 tornadoes roared through Alabama on Thursday, March 25, carving a path of extensive damage, power outages and numerous injuries, the National Weather Service reported as damage surveys continued late Sunday night. Five fatalities have been confirmed so far, all of which were in Calhoun County.

All missionaries are safe and accounted for, said Church spokesman Sam Penrod. 

In central Alabama near Birmingham, vast areas of Shelby County were severely damaged, including the Eagle Point subdivision and parts of Columbiana and Calera. 

Birmingham Alabama Stake President Barry R. Sadler said a few members of his stake reported damage — the most severe being the bishop’s home in Columbiana pummeled by five large fallen trees. The vehicles on their property also suffered tree damage. 

“Other than that, our members were miraculously spared any damage,” President Sadler said. “And no damage to our meetinghouses, which was quite the blessing.”

Cleanup efforts began immediately. “Saturday we had probably 40 members of the stake and 20 missionaries out doing some clean up in three different locations,” he said. 

“There were other churches and other people from the community that were just out trying to help as well. … It was just really neat to see. And that’s how Alabama is — people just band together and go to work.”

Read more: Area Seventies in U.S. Southeast consider gospel lessons following historic hurricane season

President Sadler said while returning home from helping at the bishop’s home in Columbiana, he felt prompted to stop at a home in Calera with fallen trees.

“I told them if they needed help, we could send a crew the next morning. And we did,” he said. “They got out there and worked with us and were just extremely grateful. We invited them to church, and who knows what will happen. But it was good to be able to serve.” 

Fallen trees and downed power lines cover the yard of a home in Calera, Alabama, after a severe thunderstorm passed through the state on March 25, 2021, producing several tornadoes.
Fallen trees and downed power lines cover the yard of a home in Calera, Alabama, after a severe thunderstorm passed through the state on March 25, 2021, producing several tornadoes. Credit: Barry Sadler
Members of the Birmingham Alabama Stake helped the family of this home in Calera, Alabama, remove fallen trees and debri from their yard following a severe storm on March 25, 2021, producing high winds and several tornadoes.
Members of the Birmingham Alabama Stake helped the family of this home in Calera, Alabama, remove fallen trees and debri from their yard following a severe storm on March 25, 2021, producing high winds and several tornadoes. Credit: Barry Sadler

About 60 miles southwest of Birmingham, Latter-day Saints near Tuscaloosa continued their cleanup efforts on consecutive Saturdays. 

“We had a tornado here last week that went through Tuscaloosa. So this was the second one in two weeks,” said Tuscaloosa Alabama Stake President Robert V Lewis. 

At least 150 homes were damaged in nearby Greensboro, Centreville and Brent during Thursday’s round of twisters, he said. One member reported roof damage and fallen trees. 

“We’re doing fine,” President Lewis said. “Our stake was hit more rural than it was in any kind of a metropolitan area. The damage was fairly significant in some rural areas, very small towns. …

“What we’re simply doing is reaching out to these small communities and just trying to make connections. We’re using it as an opportunity to provide service.”

Members of the Birmingham Alabama Stake help clean up fallen trees and debris after a deadly string of tornadoes roared across Alabama on Thursday, March 25, 2021.
Members of the Birmingham Alabama Stake help clean up fallen trees and debris after a deadly string of tornadoes roared across Alabama on Thursday, March 25, 2021. Credit: Jim Tice

While speaking to the Church News on Monday, President Lewis was gathered with fellow stake and community members waiting for a truck of supplies from the bishops’ storehouse in Atlanta, Georgia.

President Lewis said they are partnering with the mayor of Northport to deliver food boxes to people in need in Greensboro. 

He expressed gratitude for those who prepared the truck in Atlanta — “they’re the unsung heroes,” he said — and for those in the community helping unload the truck. 

“We really are just one big family,” President Lewis said. “And when things are tough, the family part really comes to the surface.”

Gadsden Alabama Stake President Jeffrey A. Cote — whose boundaries include the hard-hit areas in Calhoun County — said damage assessments are underway. Roads to most of the affected areas in his stake were closed to nonemergency traffic over the weekend.