“The lights start flickering. Eventually, the lights go black. And then – this all happens within five seconds – I see a tree go by.”
Sharanda Totty vividly shares each moment that an EF-3 tornado ripped through her Evergreen, Virginia home as she held her one-year-old baby, Aubrielle, tightly in her arms.
“The house is lifted. It doesn’t come apart piece by piece – it is lifted,” said Totty. “So, me and my baby were exposed. She is sitting on my lap, and we’re exposed to this tornado that is above us.”
That’s when Totty says she believes God pushed her and her baby under the safety of a mattress sitting in the corner of the basement.
“That whole time I could hear things flying around and everything coming apart. I am saying, ‘please God, no. Please!'”
Winds reported up to 165 mph completely dismantled the Totty residence in a matter of seconds – sending furniture, appliances, and memories flying all over the community – all except Sharanda and Aubrielle.
“It passes, and I can’t believe we’re still there that whole time, and I looked down at my daughter and she is sleeping.”
On February 24, this small town was ripped apart that took the life of one man, sent two people with serious injuries to the hospital, destroyed 50 homes, and damaged another 200. Without power, limited shelter, and lack of resources – hope seemed minimal.
One structure overlooking the community that made it through unscathed was Evergreen Baptist Church. This would soon become the beacon of light on the hill and the disaster relief hub for the community. Dr. Chris King is the pastor and lives next door to the church.
“This is obviously something that is going to take this community not only days but weeks and months – maybe even years to get over,” said King. “This is a prime time to share in tangible terms that the Lord loves them.”
Just hours after the wind settled, SBC of Virginia churches with disaster relief teams and other volunteers came together to provide hands of help and a message of hope. More than 200 volunteers completed approximately 100 different jobs to include securing tarps on damaged rooftops, cutting trees, removing debris, feeding, and managing a portable shower and toilet unit.
Volunteers from Swift Creek Baptist Church of Midlothian, Thomas Road Baptist Church and Beulah Baptist Church of Lynchburg, Liberty Baptist Church of Appomattox, and many others committed to help families impacted by the storm.
“We served a little over 1,000 meals yesterday,” said Matt Short, Associate Pastor of Living Word Baptist Church in Forest. Short has been serving neighbors and relief workers in the Evergreen Baptist kitchen. “We have residents coming in that are unable to cook. We have people that are spending all day out in the fields, and this is where they come and sit down and are able to get some refreshments. We’re here to share the love of Christ with the people.”
The February 24 storm also produced destructive tornados closer to the Virginia coast. As many as 25 people were seriously injured with 15 homes completed destroyed and another 15 damaged in Tappahannock. In Waverly, three people, including a two-year-old, were thrown out of their trailer home and killed. More than 60 homes were damaged and seven others demolished. Hundreds of volunteers rallied together to help families in these areas.
“Disaster relief volunteers show what it means to be ambassadors of Christ, serving in Jesus’ name to meet their neighbors’ need,” said Dr. Brian Autry, the Executive Director of the SBC of Virginia. “This is one of the profound examples of the power of partnership among our churches.”
“I cannot say thank you enough to the SBC of Virginia,” Totty exclaimed. “I’ve never been so loved by people I don’t even know!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ishmael LaBiosa is the Director of Communications at the SBC of Virginia.