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Tornado victims turn to faith in recovery
May 15, 2011 / 9:12 PM / 7 years ago

Tornado victims turn to faith in recovery

PLEASANT GROVE, Alabama (Reuters) - Women in spring dresses stood beside men in dirty jeans to sing “Count Your Many Blessings” at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church on Sunday as volunteers took a break from helping families recover from the April 27 tornado that devastated the tiny community.

“We are blessed to be able to help others,” said Bill Sadberry, 74, staffing the church’s volunteer command center.

Behind him, big sheets of paper listed the names and needs of nearly 50 stricken neighbors.

Alabama and six other Southern states are still counting the cost of the twisters that tore through the region more than two weeks ago, the second deadliest tornado outbreak on record.

The storms destroyed whole neighborhoods and killed more than 330 people, more than 230 of them in Alabama alone, and caused damage that is expected to exceed the $2 billion.

In Pleasant Grove, many volunteers remained out in the field and only came by the church for a hot lunch.

“We can either be in church, or be the church,” said Denny Nissley, founder of Christ in Action, a volunteer group that specializes in disaster recovery.

In the congregation of nearby First Baptist Church Pleasant Grove, many people wore casts and bandages.

Three church members at died in the twister and some remain hospitalized, according to Senior Pastor Daven Watkins.

“The house fell on top of us. It was gone, and she was gone. But I am blessed, because I know where she is, in heaven,” said Bobby Earley, describing the death of his wife of 52 years, Canatha Earley.

Earley said he tumbled in the air, “not knowing which way is up.”

Members of the Stewart family survived with bruises and broken limbs by huddling in their home’s bathtub.

“As sure as the sun is hot and ice is cold, I knew I was going to die,” said Jonathan Stewart, 39.

In spite of losing his house, Stewart said he came to church to give thanks for his blessings.

“I walked away with what made my house a home,” he said, pointing to his family.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has so far told the family it is ineligible for federal help -- news that Stewart takes in stride.

“This is the best thing that could have happened to me. It changed my relationship to the Lord, my family and my friends,” he said.

Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst

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