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TX churches whirl into action after twister

BY SUSAN KIM | QUANAH, TX | May 30, 2001

"When you live in small communities, it's the churches that know who needs help."

—Bertha Woods

When a tornado roared by the rural community of Quanah late Tuesday, local churches whirled into action behind it.

The half-mile-wide twister stayed on the ground for some 15 miles in the Texas panhandle.

Before the roar had faded, pastors and church members hit the phones, calling people who were likely to need help. Then church members of all denominations hit the road, handing out candles and flashlights for residents left in the dark.

The tornado -- which was the result of two smaller twisters that combined into one -- caused damage to farm equipment in a widespread area, took out 50 power poles, destroyed one home, and damaged a grain elevator. In the aftermath, so many downed trees covered the roads that many roads were still closed Wednesday afternoon while the highway department cleared the debris. Power was still out for some residents Wednesday but was gradually getting restored.

The storm also dumped baseball-size hail in the area, damaging many vehicles.

Bertha Woods, executive of the town's Chamber of Commerce, said the small community had an organized response headed by local church members who could check on the elderly, on people who live by themselves, and on people who depended on electrically-run medical equipment.

"When you live in small communities, it's the churches that know who needs help," said Woods, recalling an ice storm this past winter in which 200 people stayed for three days in the First Baptist Church in Quanah.

There were no injuries reported, which astounded some local emergency officials given how long the twister stayed on the ground. "Luckily the family in the destroyed home heard tornado warnings and were able to travel to a safe shelter before the twister hit," said Carson County Sheriff Gary Robertson. "We got by pretty easily in that way.

"On the other hand," he said, "a lot of farm equipment in the fields was twisted up or mangled. And the family whose home was destroyed -- they had nothing left to come back to."

Many homes escaped damage because the twister followed the road for several miles instead of veering off into more populated areas. "It was like it had a map, following every little kink and curve in the highway," said Woods.

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