Twister Stirs Up Haunting Déjà Vu in Birmingham

By   •   January 27, 2012

It’s hard to imagine the scene after this week’s tornado ripped through the state of Alabama. A 16-year-old girl was thrown from her home and found dead 40 feet away, lying on her mattress. An 83-year-old man died after his mobile home was thrown 200 feet.

These reports rattled the Birmingham, Ala., community, which is still reeling from the 2011 tornado that ripped through their state last April, killing more than 300 people.

This time around, approximately 200 homes were destroyed and another 200 damaged.

“It’s pretty traumatic for this community to lose these two members, one so elderly and one so young,” said Billy Graham Rapid Response Chaplain Jack Dowling. “There are so many homes destroyed. It’s a real serious situation.

“But that’s why we’re here, to minister to the emotional and spiritual needs, and to stand with these people.”

And the needs are plentiful. More than 100 people were hospitalized and five schools damaged, including an elementary school that was 80 percent destroyed.

But through it all, there are many who look at two deaths, despite 200 ravaged homes, and wonder how the math adds up. This was, after all, a tornado that struck at 3:30 a.m., with little or no warning to most who were sound asleep.

“I’ve heard many people in the area say that it’s been a miracle from the Lord that more people didn’t die,” Dowling said. “There was no time for warning. Only two people dying? That is miraculous.”

Four Rapid Response chaplains have been ministering this week to the victims of Monday’s early-morning storm. It’s the second Rapid Response deployment of 2012, after the Jan. 11 North Carolina storm in Rutherford and Burke counties.

It’s also the second deadly tornado in this region within the last nine months and that has many people shaken up.

“It causes the whole reinvention of fear and anxiety on the part of those who were involved,” said Chaplain Mike Clark, who is from Hazel Green, Ala., two hours north of Birmingham. “There’s a fear that never goes away.

“When you hear the sirens, you hear the roar, you see the debris piling up, that fear of loss of life boils up in everybody. And in this case, waking up to a siren, not knowing how long until the storm would hit. Or if it would just pass by.

“I guess you would call it the dire fear of not knowing where to go,” he said, “not knowing where to run. There’s no feeling like helplessness.”

And that’s where the Gospel comes into focus.

The chaplains are looking for opportunities to share about the hope and comfort that only God can bring during all the storms that life offers.

Chaplain Becca Dowling was able to encourage one woman this week by praying with her and sending others to talk with her husband after Samaritan’s Purse had helped clean up debris from her yard.

“She needed trees taken care of in the backyard,” Becca said. “She was a Christian but she wasn’t sure about her husband, so she was excited that people shared Christ with him.”

A special healing service was held at North Park Baptist Church on Wednesday evening. The Rapid Response chaplains were invited to attend and were able to minister to and pray with some of the struggling families.

“They’re hurting,” Jack Dowling said. “They all know the Lord, but they’re very shaken. You see God in the midst of it all as churches come together, serving and ministering to one another. Christians are showing up in droves, from all denominations, pouring in, delivering food.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see the body of Christ come together amid such chaos and loss.”

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