Va. Baptists rally to help storm survivors

by Ishmael LaBiosa, posted Friday, March 04, 2016 (2 years ago)

EVERGREEN, Va. (BP) -- Sharanda Totty vividly remembers Feb. 24. It was the night deadly tornadoes struck her state –- with one destroying her home as she held her 1-year-old baby, Aubrielle, tightly in her arms.

Sharanda Totty of Evergreen, Va., vividly remembers Feb. 24 when deadly tornadoes struck her state –- with one destroying her home as she held her 1-year-old baby, Aubrielle. Both survived the storm by seeking safety under a mattress in their basement.
Photo by Ishmael LaBiosa
"The lights start flickering. Eventually, the lights go black," she recalled of the EF-3 tornado that hit her house in Evergreen, Va. "And then -- this all happens within five seconds -- I see a tree go by. The house is lifted. It doesn't come apart piece by piece. It is lifted. So, me and my baby were exposed. She is sitting on my lap, and we're exposed to this tornado that is above us.... That whole time I could hear things flying around and everything coming apart. I am saying, 'please God, no. Please!'"

But the storm passes, and both mother and daughter remain safely under a mattress in the corner of their basement. Winds reported up to 165 mph completely dismantled the Totty residence in a matter of seconds sending their furniture, appliances and memories flying all over the community.

"It passes, and I can't believe we're still there that whole time, and I looked down at my daughter and she is sleeping," said Totty, who said she believes God pushed her and her baby under the mattress.

On that evening of tornadoes that struck the state, four people died and many were left with limited shelter, resources and no power. It was Virginia's first deadly February twisters on record, USAToday reported.

But within hours of the winds settling, Southern Baptist churches in Virginia and their disaster relief teams -- in cooperation with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV) -- and other volunteers came together to provide hands of help and a message of hope.

More than 200 volunteers completed approximately 100 different jobs that included securing tarps on damaged rooftops, cutting trees, removing debris, feeding and managing a portable shower and toilet unit.

In Evergreen, the tornado took the life of one man, sent two people with serious injuries to the hospital, destroyed 50 homes, and damaged another 200. Closer to the coast in Waverly, three people -- including a 2-year-old -- were thrown out of their trailer home and killed. More than 60 homes were damaged and seven others demolished. As many as 25 people were seriously injured with 15 homes completely destroyed and another 15 damaged in Tappahannock. Hundreds of volunteers rallied together to help families in these areas.

Evergreen Baptist Church, which overlooks its community, made it through the storm unscathed. And the church would become the disaster relief hub for the community. Chris King is the pastor and lives next door to the church.

"This is obviously something that is going to take this community not only days but weeks and months, maybe even years, to get over," King said. "This is a prime time to share in tangible terms that the Lord loves them."

Totty said, "I cannot say thank you enough to the SBC of Virginia. I've never been so loved by people I don't even know!"

Volunteers from Swift Creek Baptist Church of Midlothian, Thomas Road Baptist Church and Beulah Baptist Church of Lynchburg, Liberty Baptist Church of Appomattox, and many others also committed to help families impacted by the storm.

"We served a little over 1,000 meals yesterday," said Matt Short, associate pastor of Living Word Baptist Church in Forest. Short has been serving neighbors and relief workers in the Evergreen Baptist kitchen.

"We have residents coming in that are unable to cook. We have people that are spending all day out in the fields, and this is where they come and sit down and are able to get some refreshments. We're here to share the love of Christ with the people."

Brian Autry, executive director of the SBCV, said, "Disaster relief volunteers show what it means to be ambassadors of Christ, serving in Jesus' name to meet their neighbors' need. This is one of the profound examples of the power of partnership among our churches."

Ishmael LaBiosa is director of communications for the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.
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