Florida Baptist Disaster Relief Teams aid tornado victims in Tallahassee

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TALLAHASSEE–Just hours after three tornadoes touched down in Tallahassee on Friday, May 10, wreaking havoc, toppling trees, disrupting power and claiming at least one life in what’s being considered the city’s worst tornado outbreak, Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers arrived in the area, talking to pastors and local residents, assessing damage and making an action plan for recovery efforts.

David Coggins, director for Florida Baptist Disaster Relief, arrived Friday in Tallahassee and began making plans to set up headquarters at Immanuel Baptist Church. He met with Pastor Brian Robertson and Associate Pastor Andy Dawson, who took him on a tour of parts of the city that had been impacted. Meanwhile other teams assisted with efforts in Woodville, just south of Tallahassee, as well as in Crestview, Live Oak and Jacksonville.

Winds at 100 mph had toppled trees and powerlines throughout the city, leaving thousands without power.  The number of broken utility poles are expected to exceed 500, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. The storm system that spurred these tornadoes ripped through other areas of Florida, resulting in a state of emergency being declared in 12 counties.  As Coggins was in Tallahassee, other teams responded to assist with recovery efforts in Woodville, just south of Tallahassee, as well as in Crestview, Live Oak and Jacksonville.

“Friday was Day 1 for us,” Coggins said. “We started calling people and getting them ready. Some got here Friday afternoon, and we started formulating a little game plan. We sent out chainsaw teams and assessors over the weekend.”

Monday started as the first fully operational day for the teams with about 100 volunteers working in the area, but then more severe weather arrived in the afternoon, bringing efforts to a halt.

‘Out of nowhere’

You just never know when you will have the opportunity to talk to people about Jesus.

Brian Robertson pastor, Immanuel Baptist Church, Tallahassee

For Pastor Robertson, the tornado was unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. After he got the tornado warning on his cellphone that morning, he stepped outside for a moment and saw nothing. No rain, no wind. It did not look very concerning.

He closed the garage door and headed back into the house toward his bedroom. That’s when he heard a big crash, and he and his family  – wife Anne, and their kids Emilie, 17, and Braden, 12, and two dogs –  quickly took shelter in a hall closet.

They were only in there about 10 minutes, but they heard all the noises. “This storm came out of nowhere. It sounded like a train coming through,” he said. “We heard trees moving. We heard wind whipping. We also heard rain hitting the windows with force.”

Afterwards he headed outside where he saw trees had fallen all over the 4.5-acre property, including on two of his cars and a large storage building. “I was blown away by all the devastation that had occurred in such a short time,” he said. “There were trees down everywhere, completely covering the road.”

By Monday, after sharing its number with Tallahassee’s Emergency Operations Center, the Disaster Relief team had already started receiving calls from residents in need.

Coggins said the chainsaw and roof repair teams consist of about five to six people who go into neighborhoods to assist homeowners with cutting and moving fallen trees and covering roofs with tarps. Each of these teams includes a chaplain, a person dedicated to meeting with storm victims, praying with them and counseling them through a situation that can be very traumatic.

“They talk and listen to homeowners and pray with them and share the gospel with them if they have the opportunity,” Coggins said. “They are trying to help them get back and recover from this traumatic event.”

The assessor teams are usually two people who go into neighborhoods impacted by the storm, talk to homeowners and get their permission to assist before sending teams out.

More teams are expected to arrive this week in Tallahassee to assist with recovery efforts. Meanwhile, two other Disaster Relief teams from Florida will be headed to Texas next week to assist with recovery efforts due to recent flooding.

Robertson said he arrived back to his home Monday afternoon to find electrical workers in the back part of his property working to restore power to the neighborhood. He thanked them for their work and offered water and prayer. The men took him up on the prayers.

“They just kind of stopped what they were doing, looked at me and said ‘Man, we need prayer,” adding a colorful response regarding the enormity of the task ahead of them. Robertson got their first names and prayed with them.

“You just never know when you will have the opportunity to talk to people about Jesus.”


For updates on FLDR response, go to facebook.com/FLBaptistDR.

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