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'It’s a testament of faith is what it is': Rainsville community recovers after devastating 2011 tornado

Rainsville residents recall how the community came together after the devastating 2011 deadly tornado.

Posted: Apr 27, 2021 6:39 PM
Updated: Apr 28, 2021 3:11 PM

Ten years feels like 10 seconds for Pastor Brian Harris with Mountain View Baptist Church in Rainsville.

“I was more worried about 'hey, is everybody OK?'” recalled Harris, moments after he got the word that his church was obliterated by a deadly tornado on Apr. 27, 2011.

The entire community lost 46 souls on that day. None were church members, but they all felt tremendous pain. Many of them lost everything they owned.

While the building he preached in for years of Sundays was a total loss, Harris believes its true foundation was actually stronger than ever.

“The church is the people. It’s...It’s us,” said Harris. "It’s God’s people."

Greg Graham is a fifth generation member of Mountain View Baptist. He was among the first members who arrived at the tornado-battered church. All he could think of is that they would need help to rebuild.

“We didn’t call anybody. We didn’t ask for help,” remembered Graham as he described the kindness and compassion that just started appearing out of nowhere.

“And about 10 cars pull up, and it’s a church from Cherokee, Alabama that said 'we’re here to help,'” said Graham.

Church service was still held outdoors every week. Members of Carpenters for Christ and other church members would eventually rebuild the church a few months later. But before all of that, as the people of this shaken congregation were sifting through all of the debris, they discovered why they all come together on more than just Sundays.

“Yeah, the church bell,” smiled Graham, as he remembered someone finding the old rusty church bell that was lost in the storm. The bell brought back fond memories of a much-younger Graham helping his grandfather repair the bell for use every Sunday.

That bell is now part of the welcome sign at the entrance of the church. Also, recovered in the rubble was the baby grand piano that was fully restored. Even more astonishing is an old songbook that was found in the debris opened to the page Triumphantly, The Church Will Rise. It was a clear sign of the community’s resiliency and hope to bounce back after tragedy and despair.

“These are little things that are witness to our survival, our church’s survival and our community’s survival,” said Graham.

The church rose, and its community members did, too.

Cassie and David Miller had to rebuild her childhood from scratch. To make matters worse, they had no insurance.

“It was like starting over at 18 again, starting everything all over,” recalled Cassie.

With the help of volunteers and church members, the Millers rebuilt their home in just two years after saving their hard-enabled money. The home: fully paid off.

What happened after the worst of the storm turned out to be a blessing for the Millers.

“After the tornado, it really gave us an opportunity to make our dreams come true,” said Cassie. “It (rebuilding) could not have been done alone. That’s for sure.”

“It’s really like family,” said David.

A family. A community that once was lost, but now is found.

“It’s a testament of faith is what it is,” said Harris. 

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