By Billy Robinson
South Carolina Early Response Team members responded to a dire call for disaster help from Alabama after several deadly tornados ravaged their state, killing five, injuring many and reaping havoc on homes, farms and businesses.
A 15-member ERT Team comprising volunteers from across South Carolina, along with two disaster response trailers, responded to Bibb County April 5-8, 2021. Bibb County is just south of Birmingham. The team worked out of Brent United Methodist Church, in Brent, Alabama.
The area was impacted by a huge EF-3 tornado more than a mile and a quarter wide in spots. It spanned four counties and brought massive devastation along its 100-plus mile path through mainly rural countryside.
Brent UMC showed team members true Christian hospitality, providing us with housing in their church building and three great meals a day.
We’d met Chris Ackerman, West Florida-Alabama Conference disaster response coordinator, in November when we sent multiple teams to the Mobile area after several hurricanes, including Hurricane Salley. On this trip to Brent, Ackerman and two of our South Carolina team members scouted and assessed the disaster areas early April 5. With that, we were off and running wide open, doing our best to be God’s hands and feet to hurting and emotionally distraught people.
We split into two teams. Over the next several days, we provided emotional, spiritual and physical aid to many survivors. A couple of Alabama ERT members also joined us using their tractors and chainsaws to help, including the Rev. Thomas Leggett of Brent UMC, who only a month prior had a tornado destroy his homestead.
Many people shared miraculous stories of how they’d escaped death by getting to the centermost portions of their homes; by leaving their mobile homes to seek more substantial structures; or because they were simply away from their homes when the horrific tornados hit. One man told about how he’d laid across his children as a tornado tore off portions of his roof, which we tarped to prevent rain from destroying the insides. Another man told how he rode out a direct hit of the EF-3 tornado that literally obliterated his home around him, leaving him basically unhurt on his couch in the middle of a pile of rubble that used to be his home.
A family came up to us thanking us for coming so far to help, though we were unable to help them as their home had been crushed by several trees. Graciously, they escaped harm.
A woman who was physically and mentally stressed by the disaster ministered as much to us as we did to her while helping her cope with the aftermath that left six trees through her home. God’s joy was ever-present in and through her. She was unwilling to leave her devastated home yet, so we tarped the portion she was living in and made it inhabitable for now.
We cut out downed trees and removed debris to help families salvage their family goods, which in most cases were strewn across several hundred yards and intertwined among a wide variety of storm debris. In one rather unusual case, we were able to cut out egress to two pigs trapped under debris and in dire need of water and food.
We prayed with many survivors and left Scripture care items with them. We provided major chainsaw work to six homes, including cutting out access to pump houses, making egress routes/roads and removing trees from homes. We tarped five homes and helped survivors pick up the pieces of their household goods and, more importantly, their lives.
We have responded to these types of disasters multiple times a year throughout our 17 years of South Carolina ERT responses throughout the Southeast. Every time, it is so encouraging to see the best come out in people as neighbors come together to help each other and the Christian churches spring into action and become the church Jesus calls us to be—not brick and mortar, but through our blood, sweat, tears and our love, love, love.
SC ERT responders included myself as well as the Rev. Fred Buchanan, Darrel Briggs, Chuck Marshall, the Rev. John Elmore, Jim Smith, Curtis Burnett, the Rev. Jimmy Dillard, Worth Adams, Wade Dickens, Dan Dowbridge, Frank Grambling, Phil Griswold, Jerry Pullen and Michael Hughes. Just as important were all the people praying for us and financially supporting our missions, plus people like the Rev. Mike Evans, who helped coordinate the mission then had his gallbladder taken out two days prior, causing him and his daughter Ashley to miss the trip, though they were there in spirit and prayer. To God be all glory, honor and praise.
Robinson is South Carolina UMVIM ERT coordinator.