Iowa tornado devastation triggers Baptist DR response

MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) -- Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.

Volunteers serving with the Iowa Baptist Convention's Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team begin cleanup in a homeowner's yard in Marshalltown, Iowa. The town was hit by an EF-3 tornado Thursday, July 19.
Photos courtesy of Iowa Baptist Convention Disaster Relief
A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.

Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.

"It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth," Carlson said. "When you go downtown, you'll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.

"On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There's really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren't livable," Carlson said.

The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.

Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town's courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.

A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.

SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board's executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.

"[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel," Porter said. "We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, 'What makes you do this for no charge?' that's when you've earned the right to share the Gospel."

The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.

Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.

"Pray for all the people who live here," Carlson said. "A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here."

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.
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