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Emergency Disaster Response in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

By Captain Jason Koenig

I arrived to Tuscaloosa, Ala. on May 13. On my first day, a few of the other newly arrived Emergency Disaster Services crew and I were given a tour of the affected areas in Tuscaloosa. It was a lot to absorb.

We came to areas that looked like junk and trash dump yards, yet in mid-March they were fully established neighborhoods. In the Crescentridge area, we saw many flipped-over cars, full size trees pulled out by their roots and the remaining foundations of what used to be homes.

Among the destruction, we saw a building that represents one of God’s many miracles in this tragic event: In the middle of the neighborhood stands strong the only building that survived, a local church. While the building experienced minor damage, compared to the damage of the neighborhood, it continues to stay open and serve those who are now without homes. This church now serves as a beacon of hope.

As we went to the different neighborhoods, people shared stories of how thankful they are to God for surviving the tornados. Many shared their great thanks to the service The Salvation Army has provided from the beginning. It was a lot to take in as we watched people come up to where their homes once stood and sift through the remains to find what little they could of their personal belongings.

During my stay here, I am the operations chief overseeing canteen (mobile kitchen) operations. This is an amazing ministry. We have four canteen teams, most of which came from Florida. With each meal, each bottle of water, they give the love of Christ. I assessed that my role here is to give these teams support. I spend each day driving through Tuscaloosa spending time at each canteen site.

I have been blessed to see ministry in action through all of this devastation. It has also been a blessing to talk with people and hear how God protected them during the tornado strikes. I spoke with a sheriff’s deputy who said his house was hit but the damage can be repaired. That’s a miracle in itself, but as he saw the tornado approaching, he called to his wife to get their baby son. She quickly ran to the room and grabbed a hold of him. Moments after she ran out of the room his crib went flying out of the window. If they had waited a few more moments his son would have still been in that crib.

Even through all of this destruction and remains of ruin there is a sense of togetherness in this community. I have seen many families and groups setting up grills and cooking up food for anyone who needs it. People have come together to help each other.

One of our canteens is set up next to The Salvation Army’s shelter building, which was destroyed in the tornado. Both the shelter building and corps building were destroyed. There were 30 people inside the shelter building at the time. The miracle is that no one got hurt.

Even with the destruction of the buildings, The Salvation Army is still meeting the needs of the people in a mighty way. The Salvation Army isn’t the building, but it is the people being a witness of Christ and showing a reason to have hope.

During the next few days we will establish a distribution center that will provide limited financial assistance and in-kind goods. Please keep us all in your prayers as we continue to serve God as we serve the people of Tuscaloosa, Ala.

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