FRANKLIN and ALTO What Mississippi emergency authorities labeled a “tornado outbreak” swept across East Texas through Louisiana and Mississippi into Alabama over the weekend of April 13-14, claiming at least nine lives and injuring dozens.
In Texas, an EF-3 tornado hit Robertson County, destroying 55 homes in the town of Franklin and damaging property in surrounding communities. Two more tornadoes—confirmed as an EF-3 and EF-2—also struck Cherokee and Angelina counties, injuring at least 25 people attending a Native American cultural event at the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in Alto, Texas, and killing two children crushed inside a car in the community of Pollok in Angelina County, ABC news and the Associated Press reported.
SBTC DR crews have joined other relief agencies to minister in Alto and New Baden, Texas, a community of about 150 four miles from Franklin.
In New Baden, SBTC DR’s quick response kitchen, fresh from its deployment to help flood victims in Nebraska, set up operations Mon. morning, April 15. The unit, manned by volunteers from Salem-Sayers Baptist Church southeast of San Antonio, started serving workers immediately. Among its first customers were high school students from Franklin, their school closed because of the tornadoes, who came to New Baden to help clear debris.
“We are open for business,” SBTC DR feeding volunteer Ronnie Roark told the TEXAN, adding that the unit was prepared to serve hot breakfasts, sandwich lunches and hot dinners as long as needed.
The QR kitchen, a food truck type trailer, is parked at First Baptist Church New Baden, whose pastor, Fred Burden, is going around the community to let victims know that food and other forms of assistance are available.
Gordon Knight, SBTC incident commander at New Baden, confirmed that a shower and laundry unit from Lake Athens Baptist was en route to the area. An SBTC DR recovery unit from Calvary Baptist in Beaumont was also headed to Robertson county, said SBTC DR associate Daniel White.
“The steeple says it all,” Knight told the TEXAN, referring to the broken steeple of First Baptist New Baden damaged by the tornado, which also downed trees and took out electricity to the church.
Burden was alone in the parsonage across from the church when the tornado struck. Urgent messages from his daughter in Lexington, Ken., and his wife visiting in Houston alerted Burden to the storm.
“I looked out our window, then stepped out on the porch,” Burden recalled. “You could see the circulation.” The pastor sheltered inside his home where the noise of debris hitting the house drowned out the freight train sound of the tornado.
Not only was the church steeple tilted, but the youth hut was damaged, Burden said. He complimented church and community members who came Sunday evening to help, some diverted from nearby Franklin to outlying areas often forgotten in a storm.
Many in Burden’s congregation of 80-100 come from Franklin. Many in the church suffered storm damage, including Matt and Rachel Waller, whose modular home was destroyed.
“The tornado lifted the Waller home off its foundation and moved it 50 feet. Two giant trees stopped it,” Burden said. The family is staying with relatives and has been amazed at the response from the community, Burden said, adding as a commentary on God’s sovereignty and people’s response in times of crisis, “God can take a crooked stick and hit a straight lick every time.”
Texas Baptist Men have set up operations in Franklin at First Baptist Church, the church’s interim pastor, Ted Elmore, SBTC evangelism associate, told the TEXAN.
“We will do things in Franklin if TBM has needs. We will make sure if they need help and vice versa. We always cooperate,” Knight said, adding that TBM and SBTC DR assessors both worked in Alto yesterday.
“Alto was hit just as hard as Franklin,” Knight said.
SBTC DR teams are traveling to the Alto area, SBTC DR associate Wally Leyerle confirmed. Recovery teams from Dogwood Trails Baptist in Palestine and the Pittsburg/Mt. Pleasant area and a feeding unit from Flint will set up operations in Alto this week to minister to victims.