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Churches respond to TN-AL flash floods


LAWRENCEBURG, TN (July 15, 1998) -- Faith-based organizations in Lawrenceburg, TN., have begun relief efforts

in an attempt to assist scores of residents who were flooded out of their

homes earlier this week.

"We're trying to assess the needs and do what needs to be done," reported

Pastor Marvin Champion of the Coleman Memorial United Methodist Church in


Heavy rains -- as much as 4 inches in one hour on Monday night -- sent

Shoal Creek over its banks, flooding roads, bridges, homes and knocking out

telephone, electrical and utility services throughout Lawrence County.

The hardest hit area was Lawrenceburg, about 75 miles southwest of

Nashville. Two people were killed as raging waters swept their cars off

bridges. Authorities were searching Wednesday for three other people who

were initially reported missing.

Flooding caused "substantial damage" to 122 homes and 18 businesses,

according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) . Another 13

mobile homes were damaged or destroyed and one church in a rural area of

the county was heavily damaged, TEMA reported.

Water and sewage treatment plants in Lawrenceburg were heavily damaged,

leaving more than 10,000 residents without water and sewage service.

Water was being trucked in from as far away as Nashville and distribution

centers were set up throughout the town. Residents in outlying areas with

wells offered water and showers to people in need.

The Church of Christ was also gathering water and food supplies to help

affected residents, according to Tim Bearden, state disaster relief

director for the Tennessee Baptist Convention. At the Coleman Memorial

United Methodist Church, volunteers were serving meals to rescue workers. A

representative from the Tennessee Annual Conference of the United Methodist

Church was working to coordinate relief efforts among area churches,

Champion said.

Some local churches opened their doors for people needing shelter. The

American Red Cross housed about 100 people at a shelter on Monday night,

but by Tuesday the number of people needing emergency housing had been cut

in half. Some found shelter with friends and family. The Red Cross

estimated that 30 families would be left homeless by the flooding.

Bearden said representatives from the Tennessee Baptist Convention planned

to inspect the area and would likely begin cleanup efforts in Lawrenceburg

over the weekend.

"We're still waiting on assessments from the Red Cross," he said Wednesday

(July 15).

Charles Moeller, the regional facilitator with Church World Service, also

planned to tour the area to see what type of long-term relief effort may be


"If it's as serious as it sounds, I'm sure that Church World Service will

be involved," he said.

Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist visited the area and declared a state of

emergency, asking for help from the federal government.

In Alabama, flooding forced the evacuation of about a dozen homes in

Lauderdale County in the northwest part of the state. The National Weather

Service issued a flash flood watch on Wednesday for 10 counties in

northwest and west-central Alabama.

In Lawrenceburg, Cindy Pettus, a lifelong resident of the town, said she

saw large landscaping timbers floating down the highway as she and her

family were driving home Monday night.

"At one point, it felt like the water was up to the windows on our car,"

said Pettus, who ended up spending Monday night with her husband,

10-year-old daughter and her parents at a local church. "It's a wonder we

didn't get swept away."

Pettus noted that the area has had more than its share of weather-related

damage this year. In early April, a hailstorm caused extensive damage to

homes and cars. A week later, the area was hit with a tornado. This week's

flooding -- in which water was 4 to 5 feet deep in some homes -- was just

the latest in the series of disasters to hit the community.

"I think somebody's trying to tell us something," she said with a laugh.

"Lawrenceburg must not be living right."

Pettus and other residents, however, appeared to be following the advice of

Capt. James Lawrence, the naval hero of the War of 1812 for whom the town

is named.

Lawrence immortalized the words, "Don't give up the ship."

Posted July 15, 1998

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