By Lonnie Wilkey
COOKEVILLE — Before the day was over on March 4 nearly 3,000 volunteers gathered in Putnam County to clear debris and help local residents begin their long road to recovery in the aftermath of a deadly tornado which swept through Middle Tennessee in the early morning hours of March 3.
Similar numbers were out among those affected in other counties in Tennessee, primarily Davidson and Wilson counties.
The latest death toll is 24 people in four counties (Davidson, Benton, Wilson and Putnam). Putnam was the hardest hit with 18 fatalities. Numerous people are still unaccounted for. NBC News reported that it is the second deadliest tornado in Tennessee history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center. Twisters killed 38 people in Tennessee on March 22, 1952, according to the NBC News report.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, was among those gathered at the old Hobby Lobby parking lot in Cookeville. Davis presented a check from Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief to Mark Davis, director of missions for Stone Baptist Association, to use to help tornado victims in Putnam County. Davis plans to present similar checks to the other associations that were directly impacted by the March 2 storms.
“It’s amazing to see this turnout of volunteers, of course with disaster relief but beyond disaster relief as well. This community is loving on itself and taking care of one another,” he observed.
“We are just appreciative that Tennessee Baptists have gotten to be a part of helping this community in their recovery effort.’
Davis encouraged Tennessee Baptists to pray for disaster relief leaders and their local directors of missions during the days and weeks ahead. He also encouraged prayer for volunteer teams. “Pray for opportunities to present the gospel as we help people through some of the most difficult times they may have been through,” he said.
Disaster relief “is all about ministry to the hearts as well as to the hurts of people,” Davis added.
DOM Mark Davis said the turnout of volunteers in Cookeville was “phenomenal” but that he really was not surprised. “Cookeville has always been a place where neighbor looks after neighbor,” he said.
Cookeville pastor Steve Tiebout of The River Community Church, agreed that “Cookeville is an amazing place. If we could fit the whole city into the disaster zone, everybody would be there,” he said.
Tiebout brought a large contingent of volunteers from The River Church who were among about 800 volunteers who signed up as volunteers just at the Stone Association table.
Another large contingent of volunteers came from the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Tennessee Tech University. “When there’s a need, people come together in this town,” said BCM specialist Ben Maddox.
As for the destruction in Cookeville, Maddox said he has seen several tornado sites. “I have never seen anything this bad. Literally, total houses were removed off foundations. To hear miracle stories of how God protected some of those people is amazing,” he observed.
“Then at the same time, there are sad realities that there were other people who weren’t as fortunate who died.”
Maddox observed that recovery will take months, if not years. “We are in it for the long haul,” he said.
Mike McDaniel, disaster relief director for Stone Baptist Association, agreed. “This is not a sprint. It’s going to be a marathon,” he said of relief efforts.
Mark Davis observed that the despite the devastation people in Putnam County have not lost hope.
“The spirit that I’ve seen is a hopeful spirit,” Davis said of survivors, “and just gratitude, gratefulness for the amount of outpouring.”
Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, agreed.
“In the midst of all the tragedy God still showed up. Hearing the stories of survival (both in Putnam and Wilson Counties) were an encouragement yesterday.
“As devastating as the loss of life has been, when one middle school teacher went back to the Mount Juliet Middle School and looked at the hallway where her children would have been hunkered down during a tornado she found it was gone. One could only imagine the loss of life that could have happened had the storm come when the children were present,” he reflected.
Jones pledged that Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief will continue “to assist in multiple areas along the tornado’s path. Volunteers are doing debris removal, property recovery and chainsaw work.
“As the initial surge of volunteers begins to slow, our volunteers will continue to assist the people with meeting their needs,” he said. B&R — This article includes reporting from Diana Chandler of Baptist Press. Disaster relief work is supported through the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions. If you would like to financially give directly to support the relief effort to tornado victims, please visit tndisasterrelief.org and click the “Give Now” button.