Miss. tornado victims getting needed relief

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (BP) -- Mississippi Baptists have activated nine chainsaw, blue tarp and feeding units to respond to victims of the Sunday (Feb. 10) tornado that damaged or destroyed 300 homes and businesses in the state, injured 85 residents, but took no lives.

Continued rains and a flash flood warning are hampering debris removal, but the number of structures Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers are targeting for repair is intended to grow, said Jim Didlake, DR director for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

"Where the tornado was on the ground, it's very serious," Didlake said. "It's been rated an EF-4 tornado, so a lot of the houses were just devastated."

Two tornados struck Lamar, Forrest, Marion and Lawrence counties the late afternoon and early evening of Feb. 10. The National Weather Service graded one tornado as an EF-4, with winds as high as 170 mph, and the other an EF-2, with winds as high as 115 mph. Oak Grove in Lamar County and Hattiesburg and Petal in Forrest County were particularly hard-hit.

"People, many of them are still in shock, because it hit, came through so quick and was so devastating," Didlake said. "The need that will be in the immediate future is going to be financial help for these folks. We try to reach out and help them as much as we can that way."

Mississippi churches have responded well to the disaster, Didlake said, with teams activated from southern and northern portions of the state. Temple Baptist Church in Hattiesburg and Petal-Harvey Baptist Church in Petal are serving as command posts, with several area churches responding.

"Our churches have responded tremendously in what they're doing, in having volunteers in the field and trying to reach out to the people in the community and helping them," Didlake said.

A Southern Baptist feeding unit will begin preparing up to 3,000 meals a day Wednesday (Feb. 13) for storm victims, Didlake said, adding to up to 2,000 meals Temple Baptist is preparing for emergency response personnel, and additional meals Petal-Harvey Baptist is preparing for storm victims, Didlake said. Area churches also are providing chaplaincy outreach, expected to continue well after debris removal and roof repairs are completed. Shelters are open, but most victims who've lost their homes are staying with relatives, he said.

Volunteers had applied tarps to 45 homes on a list of 70 as of Tuesday (Feb. 12), Didlake said, but the list is expected to grow as crews inspect new neighborhoods. Continued rain is preventing workers from hauling debris from yards; instead, they are cutting fallen trees, branches and crumpled structures, and stacking them until conditions improve.

"We can't really get our equipment in to move stuff yet because ... the yards would be torn up so bad," Didlake said. DR work is initially expected to continue through Feb. 23.

Checks in support of DR efforts should be made payable to MBCB, with "Miss. Disaster Relief" noted on the memo line, and mailed to the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. On-line donations can be made at http://mbcb.org/mission_strategy/men/dr/. The MBCB is not accepting donations of supplies, such as food, clothing and equipment, at this time.


Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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