3 Adventists Killed in Violent Storms
Oakwood University shuts down, cancels final exams.

An Adventist Review news roundup, updated Sunday, May 1, 2011

Members and employees of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the southern United States were not spared suffering during a day and night of violent tornadoes that swept through six states April 27. The North American Division reported late in the evening on April 30 that two church members in northeastern Alabama and one in Apison, Tennessee are confirmed as fatalities; overall, at least 349 people have been reported as killed in the region, 250 of these in Alabama alone, according to the latest media reports.

"Two members of the Ownbey Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is located in Ider, Alabama, [approximately 33 miles southeast of Chattanooga] and one member of the Apison Seventh-day Adventist Church in southeastern Tennessee were killed during Wednesday’s tornadic outbreak," a North American Division statement indicated.

Also, one Seventh-day Adventist Church member in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was hospitalized following the tornado's devastation in that city. At least six members of the South Central Conference lost their homes in Tuscaloosa; several more members' homes have been reported damaged there. The tornado which swept from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham had an 80-mile track, winds as high as 165 miles-per-hour and was designated an EF-4, the second-highest rating, a report at the Huntsville Times Website indicated.

Church officials in the affected area are working with local and state emergency officials to assess the situation in their local communities and determining where our assistance will be most needed, but are experiencing difficulties caused by numerous downed trees blocking roads, limited electricity, and unreliable phone service.

TORNADO DAMAGE: Unidentified home in Apison, Tennessee, extensively damaged by a tornado on April 27, 2011. Homes belonging to Southern Adventist University faculty and staff were destroyed or damaged that night; other Adventist communities in the South reported extensive damage. [SAU photo by Leo Macias]
A tornado destroyed the Piedmont, Alabama, Seventh-day Adventist Church, 29 miles east of Gadsden, Alabama, the North American Division said. No injuries were reported, however.

In Huntsville, Alabama, church-owned Oakwood University lost electricity, along with much of the northern Alabama city, and ended its semester early. Final exams were canceled and the 2011 graduation is postponed until the end of May, school officials said. Several members’ homes in the Huntsville, Ala., area have been damaged or destroyed, reports indicate.

The Anderson Hills neighborhood home of Dr. Leslie Pollard, Oakwood’s president, sustained major damage, OU spokeswoman Michele Solomon said in a telephone interview. A number of other Oakwood employees and retirees are also Anderson Hills residents, she said, and many of these suffered damage. So far, in the Huntsville area, the homes of five other church members have been reported as lost, with seven others reported as damaged, the NAD report said. Two members in neighboring Madison, Alabama, also lost their homes.

The South Central Conference of Seventh-day Adventists said April 29 they would postpone the April 30-May 1 Constituency Meeting, originally slated for the Oakwood campus. Conditions at Oakwood and in Huntsville have precluded having the session, expected to see 1,500 delegates, at the school, said South Central Conference president D. C. Edmond. A new date will be announced following the conference’s next executive committee meeting, he said.

In Guntersville, Alabama, approximately 41 miles southeast of Huntsville, Pastor Jonathan Arroyo’s home was damaged, but his family is safe.

At the same time, eight Southern Adventist University faculty and staff homes were either damaged or destroyed in the wake of the 20 tornados that swept through Southeastern Tennessee Wednesday, April 27. Among the SAU faculty whose homes were lost is Dr. Jud Lake, Professor of Preaching and Adventist Studies, whose 2010 book, “Ellen White Under Fire,” seeks to answer current critics of the visionary who was a pioneering co-founder of the Church. Lake and his family are reported to be unharmed.

“We actually were very very lucky,” said Trenton Schwarzer, SAU patrol officer at Campus Safety. “The worst [damage on campus] was one tree on Cafeteria Drive that took out one car, and miscellaneous trees on campus.”

While students and staff are helping clear trees in nearby neighborhoods, Southern Adventist University is mobilizing to help displaced faculty and staff.

“We are working at finding housing for them for tonight. Where there are transportation issues—cars damaged to the point where they cannot be driven—we’re working on providing transportation for them. If they need to move things that are not damaged out of a damaged home…we’re going to provide warehouse space on campus,” said Bob Young, senior vice president of Academic Administration at Southern.

“Our prayers and condolences are with all those in the Southern Union who have been affected by these storms,” said Pastor Gordon Retzer, president of the Southern Union Conference territory. “In this time of turmoil, we can be comforted by God’s grace and mercies.”

“In response to tornadoes, severe weather, floods and wild fires throughout the United States, Adventist Community Services Disaster Response (ACS DR) teams are assisting individuals, families and communities,” said Sung Kwon, ACS national executive director. “ACS DR, in partnership with other voluntary agencies and Federal and state governments, meets the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those affected by providing food, blankets, clothing, and other much needed relief supplies. Adventist churches, schools and mobile distribution units are utilized to collect and distribute donated goods,” he added.

On April 30, the North American Division reported the following assistance efforts:
  • The Samaritan Center in Ooltewah, TN has partnered with Adventist Community Services Disaster Response in Ooltewah to distribute cardboard boxes, gloves, trash bags, and flashlights;
  • Volunteers from Ooltewah Seventh-day Adventist Church made about 100 sack lunches. They worked with The Salvation Army in Bradley County to distribute the food;
  • Apison Seventh-day Adventist Church members are providing food to residents of the Apison area, which is three miles from the Southern Adventist University campus;
  • A volunteer group from Johnson City, TN came with chainsaws to the Collegedale area and helped Adventists and other community members;
  • The First Seventh-day Adventist Church of Huntsville, Alabama, fed members of their church and community on Saturday, April 30;
  • McDonald Road Pathfinders fed emergency workers at Apison Elementary School. This was the staging location for clean-up and recovery efforts there;
  • Atlanta Adventist Academy sent a group of students to the Apison area to help with clean-up;
  • Southern Adventist University has offered the Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency the use of dorm rooms for temporary housing beginning Sunday, May 1;
  • The Georgia-Cumberland Conference is working with emergency management officials to establish warehouse operations in Georgia and Tennessee. And, the South Central Conference is working with emergency management officials to establish warehouse operations in Alabama. Locations for both warehouses will be announced when confirmed, officials said.
Church members and friends are encouraged to visit the Adventist Community Services website, for more information about how ACS ministries are making a difference, or to make a donation.

-- Rainey Park of Southern Adventist University and the North American Division contributed news reporting for this article.

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