Tornado at OK church 'deja vu all over again'

The Rev. David Brooks moves into his new church with some unlikely guests: police, firefighters and news media.

BY BOYCE BOWDON | OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. | March 30, 2007

"I got sick at the pit of my stomach. And I thought, 'Oh no, not again.'"

—Rev. David Brooks

The Rev. David Brooks was looking forward to throwing open the doors for the first time at Christ's Legacy Church and welcoming members of his congregation to the new building.

Instead, he served host to police, firefighters and the news media after tornadoes pummeled the Oklahoma City area.

For Brooks, the tornadoes must have seemed, as Yogi Berra would say, "deja vu all over again."

It was nearly four years ago that the church, then called Cornerstone Church, was hit by a tornado, destroying the main sanctuary, the educational building, and kitchen.

The only thing left standing at the Assembly of God church after the May 2003 twister was the gymnasium. For the next 18 months, it was where the church held services, Sunday school and other activities

The church subsequently sold the property and moved one mile east to a former Church of the Nazarene building that had been empty for nearly five years. It met there while looking and planning for a new home.

After nearly two years of negotiating with insurance companies and two more years of construction, a new church building - located just off Kilpatrick Turnpike in a growing community - was ready for the 325-member congregation.

A certificate of occupancy was issued on Wednesday, clearing the way for the move in.

The next day, Brooks, his wife, and Darlene Stephens, the church secretary, along with several lay people started moving the church office into the new building.

Stephens finished work about 4 p.m. and started to drive to her home, about eight miles away in Yukon.

"I hadn't gone but about a mile down the Kilpatrick Turnpike when it started raining so hard I couldn't see and the wind was rocking my car," she said. "I pulled over to the side of the road, got out my cell phone and called the church.

"Just about the time they answered, I looked back to the west and saw a tornado coming at my car," Stephens said. "I screamed to them, 'I'm in a tornado, and it's coming your way.' When it was right by my car, it turned and somehow missed me. Just then my phone went dead."

Immediately after Stephens called, Brooks rushed to the front of the church.

"Suddenly I heard what sounded like a herd of wild horses stampeding across the roof," he said. "I got sick at the pit of my stomach. And I thought, 'Oh no, not again.'"

At the front of the building, Brooks met a technician who was installing the church's sound system. About 500 feet away, the two men watched as the tornado blew a telephone company van and a large SUV off the turnpike and down an embankment. The vehicles rolled over each other.

"We took off running over to help those people, but they didn't need much help. Their injuries were minor," Brooks reported.

"Within a few minutes, the Red Cross was setting up in our church, and a little later the police came and made their command post here," he said. "The fire department stationed a couple of trucks here so they could be available for the area. The three local television stations parked their units here and stayed until about 11:30."

Several homes and barns were destroyed within a mile of the church, but there were no major injuries.

The tornado then continued down the turnpike for several miles. Five people were injured, two of whom were still hospitaled Friday. Officials said 27 homes and about 25 other buildings were heavily damaged or destroyed.

The National Weather Service confirmed that three tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma on Thursday. Severe weather warnings - for tornadoes, large hail and high winds - remained in effect on Friday for parts of Oklahoma and Texas. Forecasters said the system could also affect southwestern Missouri and southeastern Kansas.

Thursday's twisters were the latest severe weather to hit the region. On Wednesday, a swarm of more than 60 tornadoes across the Plains left four people dead, including a couple in Elmwood, Okla., and a woman in Holly, Colo., a small town which was heavily damaged by a twister.

Brooks, who has been pastor of the church for 19 years, said plans call for his congregation to begin worshipping in the new sanctuary on April 15.

"We know that God's main concern on this planet is people and we came to this area to serve people, and we are grateful that even before we had our first amen or hit the first note we were able to be of community service," he said.

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