Destruction’s doorstep in Alabama

A tornado really does sound like a train, survivors say – the rumbling growl of destruction bearing right down on you.

That horrible noise ripped through north Madison County, Alabama, on Wednesday, April 27. Since then, it has given way to much more encouraging sounds: The buzz of chainsaws on fallen trees. The clunk of volunteers’ work boots. The stacking of scattered cinder blocks into neat piles.

Those sounds, along with many words of thanks, filled Doug and Nan Taylor’s yard the following Monday, just five days after a 200-mph EF-5 tornado leveled their sturdy brick house.

That tornado was just one of 23 that ravaged northern Alabama in the 24 hours after 8 a.m. that Wednesday. All told, the storms killed 29 people in Madison County and more than 230 statewide, according to various official sources.

Mending the Body

alabamaNow, the challenge for families in the disaster zones is to figure out a new sense of normal – and for area churches to help them get there.

Despite the widespread damage, volunteers from TouchGlobal, nearby Hope Church (EFCA) and many other congregations mobbed the Taylors’ yard in the town of Harvest on Monday, searching for mementos and methodically hauling scrap bricks and lumber to the curb. Through the strain of watching his home sprayed across the neighborhood, Doug managed a smile.

“We just see how blessed we are in all this, because of all the people we’ve met, all the support we’ve had,” Doug said. He was at work a few miles away when the storm hit, while Nan and their sons, Charlie and Chip, hid in a storm cellar across the street.

Winds of irony

Doug could only shake his head at the storm’s timing. It was 16 years ago, almost to the day, that the last tornado ravaged the area. The Taylors had just poured the foundation for the house, but the tornado passed right over it before obliterating the nearby Anderson Hills neighborhood. Anderson Hills also got slammed this time.

That same foundation lay bare today again. But even then, Doug found reason to be inexplicably grateful.

“Another thing we were blessed in – the house was just blown away,” Doug says. “Some of these houses are still partially standing, and those people can’t go in and recover their stuff.”

A community steps in

Those neighbors, and the Taylors, were the beneficiaries of an outpouring of volunteer help around their homes, most of them from local churches – Baptist, Methodist, EFCA and others.

One of them, Ben Holland, showed up to help just because the need was so great. He helped clear brush and debris from a field across the street from the Taylor property.

“When you see all of the destruction around, and you just see the loss, I just want to participate and help people rebuild in any way that we can do that,” says Ben, a pastor at Grace Community Church in Madison. “The primary way is just to demonstrate love for our neighbor.”

Harvest is part of the economically diverse area around Huntsville, AL, home of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. On another side of Harvest, not far from the Taylors’ upper-end neighborhood, stand the remains of a lower-end neighborhood around the Harvest Youth Center, a Boys & Girls Club that serves community kids. Two tornadoes joined forces on April 27 to destroy 100 of the 110 or so homes that once stood there.

The following Tuesday, 9-year-old Marih Hughes stood in the remains of her family’s bathroom, where her family and a couple of friends huddled together while the tornado demolished the house around them. A mirror and a towel rack still clung to a wall reaching up to an open sky.

“The whole room just came in,” Marih says. “We could feel all this stuff just falling on us. The mirror was still brand-new, and good thing it didn’t fall down, because if it would have fell down, it would have fell on my dad, and then he could have hurt something.”

Fortunately nobody in the house was hurt.

Toward a new normal

Hope EFC Senior Pastor Andy Wulff adds that it’s good to have people from TouchGlobal who have lived through disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike, because they understand how to lead people through emotionally difficult situations and get things done despite those difficulties.

“We’re called to be people who are gospel people,” Wulff says. “That means we communicate that with words and with action. The gospel’s a message, so we communicate the message of the gospel. But oftentimes, that message needs to be wrapped in the action of people.”

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