Church Destroyed But Praying Parishioners Survive Tornado

Four people were killed recently when tornadoes ripped across east Texas, hitting several small towns. One of the areas hit was Emory, a town 70 miles east of Dallas. 45 parishioners, including students and toddlers, had gathered together for a special dinner at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church to honor high school graduates.

In the midst of the celebration, youth minister, Monica Hughes, stated she took a phone call from Maggie Condor, a volunteer in the office who had been monitoring the storms.

“The tornado that hit Canton is heading straight for us,” Candor told her.

After receiving the news, Hughes told everyone to move to the hallway, which was the innermost place in the building. Although there was some grumbling from some of the teens, everyone complied with the decision.

On her way to the hallway, Hughes went around locking all the exterior doors as an extra precaution to help keep the wind from ripping them open. She then made her way into the hallway to take shelter and about 30 seconds later, the tornado hit. Her husband saw the sanctuary roof being ripped off.

“What I saw was people covering each other, comforting each other. Parents covering small children, teenagers huddling together. We began to pray,” she said. “We didn’t have this horrible fear, we felt protected. I felt that Jesus was over us…whispering to me, ‘It’s OK, I’ve got you.'”

The tornado passed, but the parishioners stayed put as another storm began bearing down on them. Once that storm finally began to subside, they stayed in place waiting for emergency responders to arrive. Finally, two hours later, after the arrival of EMS, they were able to leave.

The director of public affairs for the Diocese of Tyler, Peyton Low, stated that both ends of the building had been blown out by the tornado. The only part of the church that was left standing was the hallway in which the parishioners had gathered. While the rest of the church was completely destroyed, each of the parishioners survived. “People are using the term ‘miraculous,'” said Low.

The pastor of the church, Father Victor Hernandez, who was not at the dinner, also called it a miracle. “People could experience the hands of God protecting them.”

On Facebook, the Diocese of Tyler posted, “By the grace of God and the protection of Our Lady, no one was injured.”

Although their church was destroyed, it didn’t stop the parishioners from gathering together outside on the grounds of the church to hold Mass and to give thanks that they had survived. Following the Mass, parishioners grilled burgers to help raise funds for a new church building. They’ll find alternative gathering places while they wait for a new church building.

“We’re going to come out of this stronger than ever,” said Father Hernandez.

Along with the four that were killed in east Texas, 50 people were hospitalized in nearby Canton. According to the National Weather Service, there were a total of seven tornadoes that touched down in the area on Saturday, April 29. The tornado that struck St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Emory was an EF3 and had been on the ground for 51 continuous miles. An EF3 tornado has wind speeds between 136 and 165 mph.

Texas governor, Greg Abbott toured the tornado-ravaged area the next day and stated there were more than 5,000 homes or other buildings in the path of the storms.

“You saw homes and other buildings that were completely flattened, as well as others that were nothing more than rubble. … It was just large swath after large swath of devastation,” Abbott said.

According to Emory city records, a home had not been damaged by a tornado in 100 years.

“They usually go around us, but this time it was our turn,” said Rains County Emergency Management Coordinator, Jon Wedeking.

The same storm system killed 9 more people in two different states – Oklahoma and Arkansas.

With an average of 132 tornadoes that touch down each year in Texas, this state has the highest number of tornadoes in the United States. An average of seventy people a year are killed by tornadoes throughout the country, usually as a result of flying or falling debris. The year 2017 is already the deadliest year for tornadoes in nine years.

~ Christian Patriot Daily


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