(Photo: Samaritan's Purse)
The death toll from the massive Joplin tornado that hit Sunday has now risen to 125. Officials estimate that at least 900 people were injured in the single deadliest tornado since 1950.
As search and rescue teams comb for survivors in the city of 50,000, Christian relief teams are on the ground in Joplin, Mo., ready to provide emergency relief to the area's devastated residents and homeowners.
Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, appeared in a video Wednesday asking for prayers and donations for the relief effort.
"This is the most deadliest season we've seen for tornadoes," said Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham. "We need your prayers and your financial support for us to go into areas like this hours after the storm."
Samaritan's Purse Disaster Relief teams, which arrived in Joplin a day after the tornado, sent out its first team of volunteers Wednesday to help homeowners and storm victims remove fallen trees and debris, make emergency repairs, and salvage valuable possessions.
"We're going to go out and not only meet the physical needs of the homeowners that affected by these tornados but most importantly, the spiritual and emotional needs as well," Luther Harrison, director of North American projects for Samaritan’s Purse, told The Christian Post.
An estimated 8,000 buildings, including commercial, residential and recreational sites, were destroyed by the tornado in the southwestern region of Missouri, according to city officials.
Harrison described the scene as "complete devastation," saying the tornado left in its path cars stacked on top of each other and jumbles of brick and wood.
"It is hard to describe other than if you took a complete neighborhood in a residential area and also a commercial area and put it in a blender and hit 'pulverize,'" he said.
"A lot of these folks have lost loved ones and they are going through a very deep valley right now. Also, you look at everything they have worked for over the years and it's been blown away. "
The Samaritan's Purse Disaster Relief Unit is setting its base at Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin. The Christian relief organization is also partnering with the local church to recruit volunteers to help homeowners clean up and piece whatever they can back together.
"There is always something someone can do," said Harrison. "We just want people who can use a chainsaw, who can cut trees. We also have people who will run heavy equipment like skid loaders that will help remove debris."
Harrison said the relief unit is currently looking for more helpers and encourages those interested to sign up on the Samaritan's Purse website.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has also sent trained chaplains with their Rapid Response team to minister to the spiritual needs of Joplin survivors. They will provide spiritual counseling and prayers with the homeowners and residents while Samaritan's Purse will tackle more of the manual work.
After each project, Samaritan's Purse volunteers will hand each homeowner a new leather-bound copy of the Bible, signed with their favorite verses or words of encouragement, said Harrison. They will also pray with the homeowner.
"The reason why we go in [there] in Jesus is we want people to know that God loves them, that God cares for them," said Graham.
In the past month, Samaritan’s Purse has responded to two other major storms – the tornado in North Carolina and twister in Alabama.