ADEL and ALBANY — The Red Cross’ emergency shelter at First Baptist Church in Adel has closed after four days and the first Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief cleanup and recovery teams have arrived in Albany following the weekend’s storms.
A powerful EF3 tornado packing winds of 140 mph swept through Brooks, Cook, and Berrien counties on Sunday, killing 15 people. An elderly couple who were members of First Baptist Church of Nashville – Russell and Ann Nix – died in the predawn disaster when a large tree fell on their home.
A tornado that ripped through Albany later that afternoon demolished dozens of homes, claimed four lives, and left $50 million in damage.
Jan. 22 was the deadliest January date for tornadoes in the Southeast in 48 years. Jan. 22, 1969 marked the day when 32 people died. Twenty lives were lost throughout the Southeast in the current disaster.
Bill Mariette, senior pastor at First Baptist Adel, said the church’s fellowship hall was activated shortly before dawn on Sunday after the tornado destroyed nearly half of a 96-lot trailer park.
First Adel served as Red Cross emergency shelter for four days
The South Georgia native said he has seen his share of hurricanes and bad storms, but this was the first time he experienced such a powerful storm. He was one of the first responders in the predawn hours after being asked to accompany the county’s Emergency Management Agency director and Adel mayor, who are both members of the church.
The EMA requested use of the church bus to transport individuals to the shelter whose homes were destroyed. It was not until Tuesday morning when he escorted some of the residents back to the site to briefly collect limited items from the rubble – a wallet, purse, or medication – that he saw the full impact of the storm.
“It looked like a direct bomb strike in a war zone,” he added. “There is no way you can begin to explain the destruction and the debris that remains in trees and scattered throughout the area.
“I talked to one family member who said they found their couch 50 feet away from the house in one direction and their clothing 50 feet away in the direct opposite direction.”
Church housed five individuals, served nearly 150 meals daily
Will Faircloth, a deacon who worked with Mariette from Sunday through Wednesday, said the church expected to house up to 15 individuals at the shelter but only housed five due to the others being able to locate temporary housing with family or friends.
“It is incredible how members of our community have opened their doors and hearts to help their neighbors, many who were total strangers,” he said.
The church provided up to 60 meals three times a day for first responders and displaced residents – some who could not prepare meals due to widespread loss of power. Restaurants and stores were generous with providing food and other necessities for the shelter, he added.
“The outpouring of good far exceeded the bad that occurred.”
Mariette noted that supplies are running high and requested individuals call (229) 507-1048 to determine needs. Currently household items such as cleaning supplies are in greatest demand.
Church office manger and ministry assistant Lisa Surrency’s home is among those heavily damaged and needing to be demolished. She and her husband, Gary, are seeking alternate housing for the next six months until their home can be rebuilt.
‘I heard the devil, something demonic’
When asked if he heard the train sound that frequently accompanies a tornado, Gary Surrency said, “I didn’t hear a train, I heard the devil, something demonic. It was a horrible roar unlike anything I have ever heard.”
The couple and their nine-year-old granddaughter huddled in the central hall as the house began to come apart and a large tree crashed through, landing in the kitchen. An insurance adjuster noted that the only thing that keep the home from exploding was Gary Surrency’s swift action in opening the garage doors and a window on the far side of the house to equalize the pressure.
“I honestly thought we were going to die. I just praise the Lord that we are still here,” Lisa Surrency said from a hotel where she and her husband are staying.
The couple live only three-quarters of a mile from where the tornado touched down at Sunshine Acres mobile home park.
Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief chaplains have been on-site but chainsaw crews were prevented from coming in due to search and rescue efforts.
Longtime Disaster Relief volunteer Bob Sprinkle, who toured Adel with Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief coordinator Stuart Lang on Tuesday, ministered to one individual who lost everything in the storm.
Sprinkle said the man explained how he was sleeping in his bed when the 3 a.m. tornado touched down. He remembers his trailer being picked up and flipping over three or four times, landing on his pickup truck. He rode his mattress during the ordeal and survived with only seven stitches. The trailer is unrecognizable as it sits atop his truck, Sprinkle said.
Teams setting up at Lakeside Church in Albany
Sixty miles northwest of Adel, four Disaster Relief clean-up and recovery teams have set up at Lakeside Baptist
Church in Albany with a fifth team expected to arrive this afternoon. An Incident Management Team which evaluates needs is also on site.
Chaplains were the first onsite in Adel and Albany and remain in both locations.
Hans Wunch, director of missions for Mallary Baptist Association, said there were four deaths – no known Georgia Baptists – in the area with search and rescue still in progress. One church, Liberty Baptist Church east of Albany, experienced various damage to its fellowship hall and roof with a hole through the wall “that looks like a cannon ball passed through,” he said.
The scene at a 200-unit mobile home part is “heartbreaking, with many of the units heavily damaged,” he stated.
“This is not a process that will be cleaned up in a week or two. We will eventually need some Baptist Campus Ministry teams and others to come down and help, but not until we able to determine the needs, he cautioned.
“I am so proud of the way our churches of all faiths have pulled together and pooled their resources. We covet the prayers of our fellow Georgia Baptist brothers and sisters around the state.”
Sherwood Baptist Church has partnered with Samaritan’s Purse to provide emergency supplies through its “Hope Center at the Coke Plant” in downtown Albany. The former bottling site had been gifted to the church and converted into a ministry center used by several churches.
Church members have also joined the Samaritan Purse chainsaw crews to remove downed trees and limbs in the area. In addition, Sherwood has been providing meals through its kitchen for distribution through the Red Cross.
“The churches in Albany across all faiths are coming together in amazing ways. My prayer is that this will unify us around the gospel far after the healing has occurred,” said John Spencer, assistant pastor for education and family.
State Missionary Patty Ficarra, assistant to Disaster Relief coordinator Stuart Lang, said there had been one salvation from Disaster Relief chaplains in Albany, with 47 work orders being processed and 10 jobs already completed.