CAMDEN – Arkansas Baptist disaster relief volunteers were among the first nongovernment responders in the aftermath of tornadolike winds that swept through the Camden area April 3-4.
According to published reports, more than 55,000 Arkansans – many of whom were in Camden and Ouachita County – were left without power following the rash of storms that hit the southern part of the state.
The damage from 85 mph “straight-line” winds was so widespread that Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe sent the state’s National Guard to assist local authorities with traffic and security duties until utility crews could restore power. Miraculously, no deaths related to the storm were reported.
Camden Mayor Chris Claybaker, who is a member of Cullendale First Baptist Church in Camden, said more than 50 houses in the city were affected, along with several dozen in the county.
Camden Fairview High School’s football stadium, gym, offices and classrooms were damaged in the storm, with portions of the building’s roof pulled back.
Arkansas Baptist disaster relief teams were staged at Cullendale First Baptist Church, where a service lighted by generators was held on Sunday, April 6. Teams serving were from Balboa Baptist Church, Hot Springs Village, Harmony Baptist Association and Tri-County Baptist Association.
Randy Garrett, who served as a “white hat” during the deployment, said the focus of 32 Arkansas Baptist volunteers was recovery, such as using chain saws to clear fallen trees and debris from streets, buildings and yards.
“Primarily, we are working at getting limbs and trees off of people’s homes,” said Garrett. “We try to get with the folks that don’t have insurance. We’ve done – counting the tarping jobs – 15 total jobs in two days.”
Garrett added that, as of April 6, the team had about 10 more jobs to complete and planned to return later in the week when the weather broke.
One team continued to work through the rain April 6 at the house of an elderly woman, who greatly appreciated the help of Southern Baptists.
“(She is an) 84-year-old lady who is a widow and very disturbed because of the damage. … She had lived in this home all of her life. She had a lot of trees down, but there was nothing structurally wrong with her home,” said Garrett. “We were able to comfort her, and when we left, she felt better that we had been here.”
He added, “People don’t realize that if you have insurance, … if it hits your house they will take care of it. But if it is just down on the property, they won’t do anything.”
Mayor Claybaker told the Arkansas Baptist News that the response from the city, county and state officials “has been great,” but it was Southern Baptist volunteers who stepped in and assisted area residents who really needed it.
“We had everything we needed, the National Guard to the Department of Corrections, here to clear off the right of way. We had our police and our fire out … for some of them for 24 hours. The problem with that is that you can only get them on public right of way. What was really affected were the people.
“We have some across from the church that are well-off financially. … They have a way of taking care of the problem. But … the worst of this was in an area where we didn’t have a lot of financially stable people,” Claybaker said.
“My quandary was, ‘What do we do to help the people?’ Then Wade Totty (pastor of Cullendale First Baptist Church) called and said, ‘Do you need help?’ He told me about the Southern Baptist association and disaster relief program they had.
“Really what happened is that they came in and (have) pretty much taken care of the big gap that we had between state, local and the county work forces. So the part they played was probably the integral part of getting this thing taken care of. Salvation Army (and) the Red Cross came in providing meals and some of those types of things. But as far as getting the trees off of the houses and out of these front yards and across driveways, that was (Southern Baptists),” said Claybaker.