As 57 tornadoes raked across the nation’s midsection on Friday, March 31, Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief (IBDR) readied for callout to assist possible victims. Then as the sun rose Saturday and damage assessments began in central and southern Illinois, IBDR notified its 400 trained volunteers that they will be called to Robinson on the southern border near Terre Haute, Indiana as early as Sunday afternoon.
“Assessors and chaplains are to report immediately,” IBDR state director Arnold Ramage notified IBDR teams Saturday morning. The “blue hat” organizers were alerted to notify their teams of storm recovery volunteers. Highland Baptist Church will serve as incident Command for the work in Robinson.
IBDR also provides assistance with flood recovery, kitchen units, mobile shower and laundry facilities, and childcare at Incident Command Centers as needed. The “yellow shirts” were already on standby after earlier storms in Iowa and Indiana.
A violent and active tornado season in early Spring obliterated Rolling Fork, a Mississippi Delta town, killing 25 people on March 24, and was followed this week by fatal hits on Little Rock, Arkansas, and North Memphis, Tennessee, among other communities that left 18 people dead.
In Illinois, two people were killed in Robinson, and one person died in far northern Belvidere when the roof of a theater collapsed on concert goers, injuring 28.
The string of storms across the central Illinois belt started with a twister in Sherman, just north of Springfield. Authorities reported as many as 40 homes were damaged. Living Faith Baptist Church lost shingles and siding, and walls were moved a few inches. A Celebrate Recovery group was meeting at the time of the 6 p.m. hit, but no one was injured.
The heavy winds continued on Saturday and delayed strapping tarps on the roof, but church members gathered inside the darkened building to fill food bags for distribution to the community. “We were to have held our largest outreach event of the year today,” interim pastor Jack Lucas said of their Easter season community project. “Instead, the congregation transitioned to preparing meals for first responders and work crews.”
County Market, a nearby grocery store which was also partly damaged, provided hot food for the church to distribute throughout the day. The church offered its restroom facilities using backup generators for first responders who had closed the damaged neighborhood due to downed power lines and roadways blocked by debris.
Tom and Sandy Garmers, members of Together Church in Springfield, suffered severe damage to their homestead and outbuildings, built by his grandparents, north of the city. “Tom and I moved into the home almost 50 years ago,” Sandy posted. “We are kind of in shock right now as all of our neighbors are, I’m sure.” She thanked members of the church for their prayers.
IBDR is a volunteer ministry of the Illinois Baptist State Association. It is part of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) and the Send Relief network operated by the Southern Baptist Convention. SBDR is the nation’s third largest relief agency, with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. IBDR will mark its 40th anniversary with a special training event and celebration in Carlinville on April 15.