A powerful storm system that hammered the central United States on Sunday (April 27) made its way across the South on Monday (April 28), leaving death and destruction in its wake as it continues to creep eastward.
A day after at least 17 people were killed by tornadoes in Arkansas, Missouri and Iowa, at least 17 more fatalities were reported in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, bringing the death toll associated with spring tornadoes to at least 36 people dating back to tornadoes that struck eastern North Carolina on Friday.
Mississippi was hit hardest by the latest round of severe weather, with at least nine tornadoes touching down across the state. The most severe twisters were in Louisville (Winston County in the east-central part of the state) and Tupelo (Lee County in the northeast region). Twelve deaths were reported in the state, nine of those in Winston County.
Along with widespread damage that was a result of heavy rain, flooding, wind and hail, at least seven people were killed in Louisville, where the Winston Medical Center also suffered damage that led to evacuation of the emergency room.
The tornado that hit the Louisville area was given a preliminary rating of at least EF4 by the National Weather Service. EF4 tornadoes have winds of 166-200 mph, making the Louisville twister the most powerful one to hit the United States this year.
In Lincoln County, Tenn., near the Alabama border, two people were killed, and there were three deaths reported in Alabama, two in Athens (Limestone County in the northern part of the state) and another in Tuscaloosa.
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) already has a response team in Arkansas to assess damage and provide aid in Vilonia and Mayflower, the areas hit hardest by Sunday’s twisters, said Jenny Oldham, PDA administrative assistant.
Oldham added that National Response Team members will be arriving in Mississippi today. She said John Robinson, associate for Disaster Response, indicated that the team will be dispersed to Louisville and Tupelo, the areas hardest hit in Mississippi.
Report from affected Presbyteries
Greg Goodwiller, executive presbyter/stated clerk for the Presbytery of St. Andrew in northern Mississippi, requested a response and assessment from PDA, and Oldham said One Great Hour of Sharing and designated funds will be used to provide assistance to areas in the presbytery affected by the storm system.
Paige McRight, interim executive presbyter for the Presbytery of North Alabama, told The Layman that there were no injuries reported from any of its member congregations and minimal damage to churches, though many members of the presbytery were dealing with property damage.
“We have a lot of property damage, but thankfully none of our members were injured,” McRight said.
Steve Puryear, administrative presbyter for Presbytery of Mississippi, indicated in an email to The Layman that there was heavy rain and wind that led to power outages for much of the area but no major damages to cities or any of the PCUSA churches. Most of the damage was downed tree limbs, minor flooding and some issues with a couple of mobile homes. No deaths have been reported in the presbytery.
About 14 months ago, the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg was demolished by a tornado, causing more than a million dollars worth of damage. Repairs and renovations have been ongoing since then, and Puryear indicated the sanctuary is scheduled to be reopened in October.
Tracking and helping
Oldham said Robinson will continue monitoring weather reports and national media reports for any future storm outbreaks, with plans to reach out and provide assistance to any presbyteries affected by disasters.
The PCUSA is asking congregations and individuals to stand in the GAP for victims of disasters such as the deadly tornadoes by Giving, Acting and Praying. Designated gifts can be made to DR000015-2014 tornadoes. Individuals may give through their local Presbyterian congregations, online, or by mailing a check to Presbyterian Church (USA), P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700.