Part of a series about "Day of Service" events
ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ala. — About 2,500 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints volunteered for two days to help tornado ravaged victims from Tuscaloosa to Chattanooga last weekend. Volunteers donated more than 45,000 man-hours of work and filled more than 1,000 cleanup work orders.
Emergency Management Agency officials in St. Clair County estimated that 1,400 homes were affected by the tornado in the county, including an estimated 300 homes in the Shoal Creek Road area where stake members were assigned to work. Three tornadoes hit the county, one of which was a Category 4 tornado. Members cleared trees, tarped roofs and pulled debris from yards. There were 13 people killed in this county alone, 11 of which lived on Shoal Creek Road.
“It was extremely humbling to drive along the Shoal Creek Road and see the devastation that took place,” said Cameron McEwen. He further described the damage saying, “You could see the path the tornado took, hitting some homes while skipping over others, clearing trees along its path. Some home sustained roof damage with trees scattered throughout the yard, while others lost everything. I was in awe when I drove by homes where there was only an empty slab and people living in tents. It really made me appreciate what I had.”
One home where member volunteers were assigned to cleanup was the house of Marion Lamon.
Marion described his property damages as being minor compared to many of his neighbors.
“My best friend, his wife and one daughter who lived only a mile up the road were killed in the tornado, while three other daughters survived, but are in critical condition,” he said.
He said he felt very fortunate to have suffered only minor damage to his home. He had a trailer that was in his shed that was sucked out and thrown 20 yards away where it landed 15 feet up in a tree, while the shed was destroyed. There were downed trees scattered all over his property, a dozen of which were in his pond.
Marion described the night the tornado hit as being a dream. It didn’t seem real until the morning when I woke up and saw the massive damage caused by the tornado. He said the help members gave as being a “dream come true,” and it would have taken him months if not years to clear his property if he had to do it himself. Members went to work immediately to help Marion clear his property. They brought in chain saws, shovels, axes and even a Bobcat tractor to clear the rubble caused by the massive tornado. Marion worked side-by-side with the members clearing his property with his tractor.
“I was really impressed to see members of the Mormon faith come out and help somebody not of their faith,” said Marion.
President C. Eric Boswell, stake president of the Montgomery Alabama Stake, said that as members of the LDS Church, and disciples of Jesus Christ, "we are willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” and that is why they would come out here and serve those who are in need.
Members teamed up with other churches, FEMA and the Red Cross to bring relief to local residence.
“It was really cool to see so many people come together to help somebody they didn’t even know,” said Justice Pinter, a youth in the Carter Hill Ward.
By the time Saturday ended, members finished clearing Marion’s property, including the dozen trees that were lying in his pond.
“The work will break your back, but it’s very rewarding when you see the difference your work makes in the lives of residents here,” said Michael Knept, a volunteer.
Members of the LDS Church will return again to the Birmingham area this weekend to continue the cleanup effort.
Ethan Stoker is the director of public affairs for the Montgomery Alabama Stake.