Literally, all the wooden fences are gone. And itís a metaphor for the relationships we now have with our neighbors
Pastor Dave Samples, Cornerstone Baptist Church
More than 800 homes were damaged or destroyed when tornadoes swept through this north-central Colorado town May 22, but local pastors say the town has never been closer.
“Literally,” said Pastor Dave Samples, of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Windsor, “all the wooden fences are gone. And it’s a metaphor for the relationships we now have with our neighbors.”
It is estimated that 100-200 homes were destroyed and another 600-700 homes and businesses were damaged when the mid-day storm hit.
A large tornado, like the one that struck Weld County, is not common to this part of Colorado, near the Wyoming border, and it’s been more than half a century since the last one was recorded here. However, the county does experience small twisters.
Samples’ church sustained roof and structural damage and some windows were blown out by the twister. But the church continued to serve its members and neighbors.
“It was kind of blocked off as a disaster zone,” he said. “The tornado was on a Thursday, and we had services on a Sunday.”
But some other churches were not so lucky. The Windsor Community Church, a non-denominational congregation, was completely destroyed as was the Church of the Ancient Path, a Baptist congregation. Samples said members of that church are worshipping at his church.
Since Samples’ congregation was able to keep the doors open, the Salvation Army operated a feeding unit in the parking lot. Cleanup teams from the Southern Baptist Convention and Mennonite Disaster Services have also helped to clean up yards and remove debris from farmers’ fields. Removal of that debris is needed to get farmers back into their growing season as will the replacement of livestock lost in the storms.
Only one death, that of man who was in his car in a campground near Greeley, has been recorded. The tornadoes in and around Windsor, a community of about 16,000, caused an estimated $150 million worth of damages.
”It’s amazing no one (else) was killed,” said Samples.
Pastor Linda Pelletier, of the First United Methodist Church in Windsor, was also amazed how few people were injured.
Pelletier’s church has been used as distribution center for goods donated by Wal-Mart, Ace Hardware and Manweiler Hardware, local store.
“They are sending goods to help,” Pelletier, said of Wal-Mart and Ace Hardware. “The stuff is coming from all over the state.”
A recent meeting was organized by FEMA and the Colorado Division of Emergency Management to set up a long term recovery effort. Michael Bright, the chairman of Colorado VOAD and the executive director of Adventist Community Services, based in Denver, said affected home and business owners will be allowed to seek federal assistance through FEMA after they find out how much insurance coverage they have.
“There’s going to be a significant (number who) didn’t have enough,” he said.
Bright said Weld County is fortunate to have a consortium of 200 churches that are attached to an email and fax system that allows the organizations to get the message out as soon as possible to warn church members of an impending disaster.
Linda Randolph, a lay minister at the First Presbyterian Church in Greeley, about 10-15 miles from Windsor, was visiting a church member who was in home recuperating with health problems. On the way back on home, she was worried she didn’t have enough gas as sheets of rain fell all around on her on the road.
She stopped at a gas station and was advised to find shelter in a nearly Safeway supermarket, where she and about 20 others huddled in a meat locker to survive the storm, and while they were there, they prayed and cried.
“(One woman) was afraid for her children,” said Randolph, “she didn’t know where they were.”
When the storm passed, Randolph went out and found her car unscathed while the one next to hers had the windows blown out. From there, she said, she tried to find her daughter and grandchildren, who were safe at a school. But the drive home, normally an easy commute, took her about two hours.
Randolph and others at her church will be collecting money for those in Windsor, a bedroom community to Greeley, to recuperate from the tornado.
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