Recovery begins after tornadoes tear through Ala. and Ga.

|


ENTERPRISE, Ala. — A tornado destroyed a high school in Enterprise, Ala., March 1, killing at least eight students in a string of deadly tornadoes that left a total of 20 people dead in Missouri, Alabama and Georgia.

Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, is among the disaster relief volunteers in Enterprise, having traveled there with a team from his church, Vaughn Forest Baptist in Montgomery.

Some of the eight students killed at the high school were members of local churches, including the grandson of Joel Jackson, former director of missions for the Coffee Baptist Association, a spokeswoman for the association told The Alabama Baptist newsjournal March 2.

Lance Hogan, pastor of First Baptist Church in Enterprise, told The Alabama Baptist that about 80 people took shelter at the church overnight. "We have had people staying here whose children were killed," Hogan said. "We ask for prayers for these families," he said, noting that he had seen an outpouring of support from church members who helped pull people from the school rubble.

Rick Lance noted that Hogan had not gone home but had worked throughout the night tending to various needs being handled by the church.

Thirteen chaplains, each trained in critical incident stress management, have been dispatched to Enterprise, reported Joe Bob Mizzell, director of the Alabama mission board's Christian ethics & chaplaincy ministries.

Rick Lance, meanwhile, said checks from the State Board of Missions are being provided to three churches in the area — one which sustained roof damage from the tornado, Lee Street Baptist, and two that are serving as staging areas — First Baptist, where the Red Cross has set up its operations, and Hillcrest Baptist, which is located next to the school but sustained only minor damage. Lance reported that the home of Lee Street pastor Larry Doster had been severely damaged.

"The situation here resembles a site where bombs have been dropped," Lance said. "Trees are downed. Houses are damaged and destroyed in significant numbers."

Hillcrest pastor Billy Joy told The Alabama Baptist, "We were at the window and saw it coming. I have never felt fear like that before. We saw cars being thrown."

Lance had not seen the school site the morning of March 2. "They routed us around that. That's pretty much been sectioned off," Lance said. He said he hoped to begin working in a chaplaincy role at the school site during the afternoon of March 2.

The volunteer team from Lance's church in Montgomery had brought in heavy equipment capable of quickly moving debris, and the team also can provide chainsaw assistance.

Apart from Lee Street Baptist Church, some churches in the Coffee Baptist Association sustained minor damage but none had major structural damage, the association's spokeswoman said.

John Granger, the association's director of missions, recounted that as the storm approached Enterprise, "The students had already been let out to the buses and had to go back into halls when it came. 'There it is' was the most warning they had." The school took a direct hit from a tornado that cut a swath of damage 200 yards wide around 1 p.m. Thursday.

"The whole building just collapsed on everybody," Chase Baldwin, a student at the school, told CNN. "A bunch of people were trapped under cinder blocks, and people had their heads cut open."

Outside the large school, cars were flipped throughout the parking lot and others had windows blown out. Eyewitnesses told CNN it looked like a bomb had been dropped on the school, and school buses were demolished.

Enterprise is a city of about 23,000 people 75 miles south of Montgomery. In addition to the eight students killed at the school, a man died in a mobile home in the community during the tornado.

Injured students were taken from the school in more than 12 ambulances and some were airlifted by helicopter to nearby Dothan, The Birmingham News reported. A triage unit was set up at city hall, about a mile from the school, and other students were evacuated to Hillcrest Baptist Church next to the school, the Montgomery Advertiser said.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley declared a state of emergency, authorizing the state's National Guard to assist in recovery and security efforts.

"I am truly sorry that the people of Alabama have had to endure these storms today," Riley said in a statement. "I am committed to providing all of our residents with any assistance they may need."

President Bush spoke with Riley after the tornadoes hit Alabama and offered any help his administration might be able to provide, the Advertiser said. The governor was expected to assess the damage personally in a trip to the high school on Friday.

The assistant superintendent of the Enterprise City Schools asked the public to "pray for our students, their parents and for our community."

In Americus, Ga., about 115 miles south of Atlanta, a tornado struck the Sumter Regional Medical Center, killing three people. The hospital had to shut down and the city lost its fleet of ambulances to the twister, CNN reported. The American Red Cross building in Americus also was hit, hindering the group's relief efforts with the loss of three disaster trailers, lights and generators, CNN said.

At least two people were killed and seven injured in Americus, located in the county that is home to former President Jimmy Carter. A shelter was opened at First Baptist Church in Americus, and search parties were going door-to-door looking for victims. At least nine people total were killed in Georgia and 10 were killed in Alabama.

Before the massive storm system reached the southeast, tornadoes killed a 7-year-old girl in Missouri and damaged homes in Kansas, AP reported.