Travelers seek shelter in church from snow

BY GEORGE PIPER | LAFAYETTE, IN | January 6, 1999


Normally, the clergy at Faith Baptist Church would frown upon people sleeping in church on Sunday, but this week they made an exception.

The congregation, a member of the General Association of Regular Baptist

Churches, played host on Jan. 2 and 3 to more than 700 travelers forced

from the highways by the closure of Interstate 65 in west central Indiana

due to high winds and heavy snowfall.

It was part of a violent weather pattern that produced blizzard conditions

in the upper Midwest, ice in New England, tornadoes across the South and

flooding in Florida. At least 60 people were killed as a result of the

storms which closed airports and stranded travelers.

In Indiana, with 16 inches of snow on the ground and winds whipping the

white stuff from corn field adjacent to the Interstate, the Indiana State

Police closed the road from Lafayette to Merrilliville on consecutive

nights.

Some 200 people stayed the first night, while Sunday night's count reached 515,

said the Rev. Scott Shelburne, an assistant pastor at the 900-member

Lafayette, IN., church located one mile from I-65. The church, which has

three classrooms and a gymnasium on its grounds, has served as an American

Red Cross shelter for the past five years.

"Anytime there's a need to close the interstate or some other need, we have

the facilities to house a lot of people," Shelburne said, noting that

Sunday services had already been canceled because the weather prevented

people from traveling locally.

Weary travelers quickly used up the allotment of cots, and some slept on

floors and in the church pews. Volunteers cooked chili and made sandwiches

for the church guests, and donations of food came in from people not

affiliated with the church, Shelburne added.

Several people thanked church officials for their hospitality, and

Shelburne credited the Red Cross with coordinating the efforts to help make

everyone comfortable.

Faith Baptist has housed winter travelers before, but never in such

numbers, Shelburne said, adding that the church was on standby Tuesday for

the Alberta Clipper system moving through the country. To Shelburne, the

shelter is part of the church's role in serving people.

"The Lord's done so much for us," he said. "It's very little effort for us

to do this."

The deaths of at least 60 people have been attributed to the storms

which closed airports and stranded travellers on one of the busiest travel

weekends of the year.

As midwest travel finally got back to normal by the end of the week another

winter storm took aim at the northeast, dropping nearly a foot of snow and

ice.

In Palm County FL, more than 31-inches of rain fell in just nine hours

Jan. 2, flooding homes and streets. The drenching rains, which surprised

even the weather forecasters, sent water into more than 100 homes and

created a sinkhole in a section of the northbound lanes of Interstate 95.

At times, dozens of homes had anywhere from a half inch to more than five

inches of standing water, said Helene Wetherington, planning manager for

Palm Beach County. Also, a tornado in Riviera Beach, heavily damaged another

20 to 30 buildings. Officials put the damage estimate at $5 million, and

are requesting federal disaster assistance.

Other tornadoes were also reported in the Florida, Texas and Louisiana

Reports of four tornadoes on Saturday near Panama City in Bay County on

the Florida Panhandle destroyed several homes with 35 others sustaining

damage, said Leah Reagan, disaster director for the Central Panhandle

Chapter of the American Red Cross.

At least three twisters touched down Friday near Huntsville, Texas, located

about 75 miles north of Houston. Seven people were injured as winds

destroyed several mobile homes and damaged other structures in a sparsely

populated wooded patch of east Texas.


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