(Kristin Eberts) [Order this photo]
She joined about 75 people in the Cairo High School gym for a community service of thanksgiving organized by several local churches to thank God that the city wasn't destroyed during recent flooding.
"We are here for no other reason but to give God the glory and thank him," the Rev. Lorenzo Nelson said. "Just in the nick of time, He showed up."
Pastors recalled the conditions in the community as the waters of the Ohio River continued to rise.
The town of 2,800 residents was evacuated as the Ohio River reached 61.72 feet and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers breached a levee near Wyatt, Mo., to relieve pressure of the bloated Ohio and the Mississippi rivers.
The Rev. Larry Potts recalled families loading everything they owned into pickup trucks, nursing homes being evacuated and massive sand boils that threatened the integrity of the town's levee.
"Praise be to God that when the evacuation order was lifted, people had a home to come back to," said Mayor Tyrone Coleman, who was sworn in May 2 as the river was about to reach its record crest.
He urged people not to put their faith in state or federal officials but in God, who has a plan for Cairo.
Last month, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn asked President Barack Obama to declare Alexander and 13 other Southern Illinois counties federal disaster areas due to widespread flooding. A declaration has not yet been made.
"For sure, everyone is glad to be back. Now their attention has turned to question what type of assistance they're going to be receiving," Coleman said before the service. "We're just waiting on the president. They're pretty anxious about that."
The city is still assessing damage to its infrastructure from May's flooding. Coleman estimates damage at more than $1 million, and repair work hasn't yet started.
Those attending Saturday's service see surviving the flood as a new beginning for their community.
"The only way Cairo is going to change is if people of faith come together and bring about a change," Coleman said. The comment drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
Smith-Fulia, who has lived in Cairo for six years, said she believes God brings out the good in every situation.
"I've been waiting for something like this to bring people together," she said about Saturday's service. "When I heard about it, I just had to come."
The Rev. Donald Topp said Saturday's service was the start of something good.
"This day starts a different set of wheels turning in the city," he said. "Where I can love you, not because of the color of your skin, or where you work, but I can love you just because you are a child of God."
Washington Avenue, Cairo, IL