By Debra Davis
Jimmy Baker recalled a Bible verse about praying in a closet when he and a friend took shelter just before a tornado demolished his brick home in the New Cedron community outside Billingsley March 17.
“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” Matthew 6:6
The roof and most exterior walls were ripped from Baker’s home in rural Chilton County as a series of storms moved across the state. He and a friend were watching the news when a phone alert said a tornado was approaching the area.
“I went out on the front porch and looked, and I could see the storm coming,” said the 81-year-old. “It was like I heard other people describe it — it sounded like a freight train. We went inside and got in the hall closet. I sat down, and she sat in my lap. We prayed out loud that God would take care of us. He did.”
The two emerged from the 2-by-3-foot closet a few minutes later. Few walls of the house were standing, and Baker’s car, which was parked in a garage attached to the house, was covered in bricks, lumber and other debris. Their furniture and other personal belongings were scattered for hundreds of yards.
“When we stepped out of the closet, we both burst into tears,” Baker said. “It is still amazing we survived.”
Early the next morning, Alfa Insurance Adjuster Sam Green was with Baker examining the damage. The homeowner expressed appreciation for the fast claims service.
“Alfa’s always been good to me,” Baker said.
Baker was one of thousands of Alabama residents who sought shelter from a series of storms that rolled across the state this spring. About a week after his close call, five Alabamians lost their lives when a tornado hit the Calhoun County town of Ohatchee. The state recorded 64 tornadoes during the first three months of 2021, or 31% of twisters confirmed nationwide.
Alfa Senior Vice President of Claims Bryan Hubbard said he’s proud of how adjusters answered the call.
“It’s been a very active spring storm season, but it’s not overwhelming at this point,” Hubbard said. “We’ve been able to provide the standard of service Alfa customers have come to expect.”
As of April 1, Alfa had processed almost 2,200 claims related to tornadoes and severe storms across its Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi service areas. One tornado traveled roughly 100 miles across Alabama.
When tornadoes tore through north Shelby County March 25, Alfa Agent Jacob Vail didn’t wait on customers to contact him with claims. He loaded his vehicle with hot pizzas and brought food, support and encouragement to homeowners digging out of rubble.
The same storms that slammed Shelby County ripped through Bibb County, leaving a path of destruction more than a mile wide in some areas near Brent. Alfa Adjuster Josh Cottingham and Agent Paul Hightower were out checking on policyholders as soon as the roads were cleared.
Sam Hogue, who farms near Brent, said a tornado toppled trees and slammed a large equipment barn into a nearby tenant house. Thankfully, no one was home when giant I-beams and masses of tangled metal collided with the house, moving it 3 feet off its foundation.
Hogue said he and other family members hunkered in the basement of his mother-in-law’s home a few hundred yards away.
“It didn’t really sound that bad from where we were, but once we took a look around, it was hard to believe how bad it was,” he said. “It’s still hard to believe.”