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Neighbors help clean up

When Terry Runions looks at the path of destruction left behind by a tornado recently, he is overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.

BY HEATHER MOYER | DYERSBURG, TN | April 12, 2006

When Terry Runions looks at the path of destruction left behind by a tornado last week, he is overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.

"This is the worst tornado I have ever seen," said the Dyersburg resident. "I've never seen anything stay on the ground for that long before."

Runions stood in a backyard on top of a small hill Tuesday afternoon. A scenic view of rural farmland and homes stretched before him, contrasting starkly with the nasty scar of a tornado's path right through it all. Piles of rubble sit where homes once were. Giant trees lay snapped in half like matchsticks. Photos, pieces of clothing, and scraps of paper are stuck in tree branches and lodged into fences.

Dyersburg and Newbern were hit hard by the April 2 tornado. Homes were leveled and lives were lost.

Now Runions is caring for his hometown along with other volunteers from his church and other local churches. His employer let him have the day off to do the work.

"This is God's work I'm doing," said Runions, a member of Hillcrest Baptist Church. "We're doing this for those in need and helping those who can't help themselves."

Runions and his fellow volunteers represent Baptist churches in the Dyer County Baptist Association. Their work is also part of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. All of them say they know people affected by the tornado. Many have friends who lost everything. The team is also no stranger to disaster relief work. Not only did they help out after tornadoes hit the region three years ago, but most of them have also been down to the Gulf Coast to do Hurricane Katrina relief work multiple times.

This time it's different, though. "This is home for me, so it's a whole different experience," said Roy Childress, volunteer coordinator for the Dyer County Baptist Association. "Down in Mississippi, you don't really know the folks you're helping. Here, everybody's like our family. This is different, this is our own backyard."

The volunteer crews have been made up of locals and out-of-towners in the past 11 days. Many are taking chainsaws to downed trees and others are picking up the debris strewn about people's fields and yards. Childress said it doesn't matter if they know the families they're helping or not - they'll help anyone who needs it.

Childress himself was out in the community the night the tornado hit. He went door-to-door with a chaplain checking in on people and assessing the needs. By 7:30 the next morning, the first volunteer crews were out in the neighborhoods taking trees off of homes and clearing properties.

Since then, help has poured in. "Every time a need comes up, it's provided for," said Runions. Childress said many businesses are providing donations of money and equipment.

And the affected families are grateful for the help. "Many are overwhelmed right now," said Childress. "When they ask us how much it will cost to help them and we say it's free, they're amazed. Many say, 'I didn't think people still did things like that.'"


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More links on Tornadoes

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