While the South Carolina Annual Conference’s Disaster Response Team helped their neighbors to the north clean up following historic tornadoes, they heard many stories of people saved by the grace of God, and saw evidence such as this of the devastation. Photo: Billy Robinson
By Billy Robinson*
From April 21 to 23, ten members of South Carolina United Methodist Volunteers In Mission’s Disaster Response Team (Early Response Team – ERT) responded to the call to aid people in need following the devastating tornadoes that hit across North Carolina on April 16, 2011. That was the worst single-day outbreak of tornadoes in North Carolina history; 24 people were killed.
When we arrived on Thursday, April 21, at the town of Rowland, we were amazed at the amount of destruction a tornado had ravaged there. We placed a tarp on one damaged roof and preformed chainsaw work at three homes, clearing trees from roofs, driveways, and yards. We spent the night at a nearby Baptist Missions camp.
Friday and Saturday, we were directed on to Fayetteville, NC, where we saw a massive amount of destruction from an EF3 tornado. Some believed it became an even more powerful EF4 tornado along part of its devastating path. It left many homes destroyed, several people injured, and one dead in Fayetteville. It launched a minivan up into a tree.
Friday, it rained all day on us, but our dedicated volunteers continued to work right through the cool, pouring rain. We were called to be “God’s hands and feet” to hurting and devastated people who were in dire need of love, compassion, hope, and a sense of normalcy. We placed tarps on three roofs and preformed chainsaw work at seven homes.
Survivors told a lot of amazing stories of how they were spared by the grace of God. There was also the story of two 4x6-foot construction company signs found near Raleigh, 49 and 54 miles, respectively, from their original locations. We saw a minivan sitting in huge forked branches that had broken off of a big oak tree when the van landed in it and then fell on top of two other vehicles. It was an amazing sight to behold, as were the splinters of wood that pierced through homes and roofs.
We saw an awful lot of devastation and, also, a wonderful amount of good being done by volunteers, including Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Mennonites; people from Samaritan’s Purse, various faith-based and civic organizations, and the Red Cross. It is always so wonderful and uplifting to see so many good-hearted people come together for a common cause. You see the best of people, as they give their all to help others in need. Unfortunately, you can also see the worst of people, when some try to take advantage of others who already are in deep, emotional distress.
We experienced and also heard of how Jesus was ever present in both the storms and the response to them. When a tire and rim of one of our disaster-response trailers was destroyed on I-95, team members stopped to help us. Relief workers included a father and son on their first out-of-state mission together; people from all walks of life who worked together in perfect harmony; and neighbors who came together as never before. We learned of a mother who stretched herself over her children to protect them from harm during the tornadoes. And we experienced God’s protective hand of safety over all of the relief and recovery workers who had come to North Carolina to help.
*Billy Robinson is the South Carolina Annual Conference’s UMVIM Disaster Coordinator