The local news stations in Central Virginia broke into live programming on the evening of April 15, 2018. Meteorologists shared that severe weather was on the way from North Carolina. Tornado watches quickly changed to warnings in a stretch from Danville through Amherst County. Fear rose as residents took cover and prepared for the worst.
Three different tornados landed in this storm. The first touched down on the western side of Danville along Westover Drive. One SBC of Virginia church family got a front row seat to the funnel just as their Sunday night service was getting underway.
“A couple of us were sitting on the front stoop, and we were able to see the clouds come up,” recalls Brad Childres, pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church. “[We] started seeing the swirling of the clouds, and then it was like a wall of wind and water just hit.”
Children and families were quickly ushered to the church basement where they prayed for protection until the howling sound of passing wind subsided. “Within just a couple of minutes, it had passed over. We came out and started seeing just a tremendous amount of damage out on the houses and the roads.”
Parts of Westover Drive became impassible with toppled trees on homes and roads, downed power lines, and debris scattered across neighborhoods. Hundreds of people lost power, and many homes received significant damage.
The storm did not finish there. The second confirmed tornado made a path along Timberlake Road in Lynchburg. Multiple businesses and homes were impacted with rooftops blown off and windows shattered. Many streets were blocked until emergency crews could clear trees and debris.
The tornado showed most of its strength as it dropped one final time as an EF-3 with wind speeds at more than 140 miles per hour. In the community of Elon in Amherst County, 20 homes were impacted. One home was completely removed from its foundation, as the family of seven held on to each other in the basement.
God protected each resident impacted by the storm that frightful evening. There were no fatalities reported. Families who became homeless found shelter that night as they prepared their hearts for what they would find on Monday morning.
The disaster areas became the mission field for local churches to respond with help and hope. Relief teams sprang into action in each location. One of the most impressive responses took place through River Church
in Madison Heights. In just one day, the church coor-dinated more than 550 registered volunteers to provide relief in Elon. More than 100 of those were members of River Church.
“We got so much work done that day that the local authorities asked us not to come back,” says Brad Mullinax, pastor of River Church. “Our teams did an awesome job of mobilizing people. God has prepared us for this moment, and we are really grateful to be a part of it.”
River Church decided to assist in the long-term rebuild of at least one house. They are raising the needed funds and providing volunteers in the coming days to make it possible.
The Lynchburg cleanup was led primarily by teams from Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg. Volunteers helped remove downed trees on personal property and from roadways.
Many Disaster Relief volunteers also helped in the Danville area. Nearly 60 came through Send Now at Liberty University and were integrated into five SBCV Disaster Relief chainsaw teams. They were able to complete more than a dozen jobs in three days with Pastor Childres to help impacted families.
“As our church reaches out, pray that we have the chance to share the Gospel and the love of Christ with our neighbors,” asks Childres. “We want them to know that our church is here to serve them and recover from the storm. Be praying for resources, wisdom for our leaders and, as we come together, that God gets the glory and honor for everything that He’s going to do.”
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