By Brandon Elrod
BEAUREGARD, Ala. (BP) — President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visited storm-ravaged Lee County, Alabama on Friday (Mar. 8) in the aftermath of an EF-4 tornado that killed 23 people.
After disembarking from Air Force One, Trump met with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, telling her that he had seen "unbelievable" destruction during his flight, according to The New York Times. See related Baptist Press report.
Trump traveled to Beauregard, Alabama and toured the area on the ground, shaking hands, visiting survivors, and witnessing some of the destruction. Trump and the First Lady also paused to view the 23 crosses set up to memorialize the victims.
Along with touring the damaged area, Trump also met with volunteers at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, which has been used as a staging area for the response.
Trump visited privately with several family members who lost loved ones and Rusty Sowell, senior pastor of Providence Baptist Church, prior to addressing survivors and volunteers.
Many gathered inside the church to hear from Trump who visited survivors and thanked first responders and volunteers for their efforts to help the community. Trump and Melania signed hats and other memorabilia for those who asked.
Sam Porter, national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) director with the North American Mission Board, was in the room while the president spoke with survivors. Porter stated that between 150 and 200 people were in the room.
"Anytime a sitting president visits a disaster area, it encourages the people of the community and reminds survivors that they're not forgotten," Porter said. "Visits like these also energize volunteers as they serve and minister following devastating storms."
Sowell opened the church's campus to be the major gathering point following the tornado. The church's worship center was transformed into a distribution center where supplies were given to hundreds of individuals who have lost their homes.
Alabama's SBDR team also set up their incident command center in the Providence Baptist Church facility. There, volunteers received calls and information from residents in need of relief work.
SBDR chainsaw and heavy equipment teams have been aiding homeowners in Lee County where fierce wind, downed trees, and other debris destroyed homes and damaged property. Laundry units have been set up to help survivors wash their clothes.
Chaplains have been providing spiritual and emotional care for those who have lost loved ones.
Mark Wakefield, disaster relief strategist for Alabama Baptists, has been providing tireless support in the days following the storm, directing Alabama's response, and sharing the Gospel with survivors.
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.
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