Tornado fails to dampen plans for wedding day

BY PJ HELLER | CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. | January 25, 1999


CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (Jan. 25, 1999) - Lynn Whittinghill wasn't going to let

a little thing like a tornado stand in the way of getting married.

Not that the tornado that ripped through Clarksville in the early hours on

Friday (Jan. 22) was "a little thing." The twister damaged a large part of

the downtown district, with observers reporting the area looked like it

had been hit by a bomb.

Among the buildings hardest hit was the historic 1882 Madison Street United

Methodist Church -- listed in the National Register of Historic Places and

which had recently completed a $1.6 million renovation -- that had its

sanctuary destroyed and three other church buildings damaged.

"It's like a death has happened,'' said the Rev. Doug Norfleet of Madison

Street UMC said.

Also in ruins was the 121-year-old Montgomery County Courthouse, which had

its roof and tower blown off. Trinity Episcopal Church, built in 1875 and

located two blocks from Madison Street UMC, lost its steeple and sanctuary

in the storm.

"It's like you ripped the heart out of the city," said Clay Hall, disaster

coordinator for the Tennessee Annual Conference of the UMC, who surveyed

the damage over the weekend.

For Whittinghill, whose mother is the organist at Madison Street UMC and

whose father is the church's business manager, the tornado threw her

longstanding plans to be married in the sanctuary on Saturday night into

turmoil.

Hearing of the devastation at Madison Street, six churches representing

three denominations called to offer their facilities for the wedding. The

couple exchanged vows at Hilldale UMC, about six miles from Madison Street.

Norfleet presided at the wedding.

"Small towns are remarkable," Hall said of the response from the churches.

"By all accounts it was an absolutely beautiful wedding."

On Sunday morning, about 800 members of the Madison Street church attended

services in a high school gymnasium. Members of Trinity Episcopal held

services in a spare sanctuary at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.

Meantime, people in Clarksville, a city of some 75,000 located about 35

miles northwest of Nashville, began cleaning up debris and assessing damage

to homes and businesses.

About 100 homes were damaged, some extensively, as was Austin Peay State

University. Only a handful of injuries were reported, all of them minor.

Power was knocked out to 25,000 homes.

James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, toured

the devastated area on Saturday, as well as other areas in Tennessee and

Arkansas that were ravaged by tornadoes earlier in the week.

Faith-based organizations swung into action in Clarksville immediately

after the twister.

An interfaith organization to respond to the disaster is expected to be

organized within a week, Hall reported. Faith-based groups were currently

working on an "informal networking" basis, he said.

A workshop for child-care workers was scheduled for Thursday to help them

work with children suffering from post traumatic effects from the storm.

"We're going to be here for the long haul," said the Rev. Ken Wallace of

the First United Methodist Church in Clarksville and head of the community

surveys and case management team. Wallace's church, located a half mile

from Madison Street UMC and on the same street, was untouched by the

tornado, which hit a little after 4 a.m.

The fast disaster response in Clarksville was attributed by Hall to

previous experiences with April tornadoes in Nashville and July flooding in

Lawrence County. Those disasters, and the lessons learned from them in

terms of response, led to a disaster response plan and training throughout

the state, he explained.

"The reason why we are where we are (in terms of the response in

Clarksville) is because we were ready," Hall said.

Other groups were also launching relief efforts. The Presbyterian Disaster

Assistance Team sent the Rev. Al Thompson to Clarksville to meet with the

Rev. George Gracey, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church.

Posted Jan. 25, 1999


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