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Small town thanks God for response

Tornadoes bring new life perspective for residents of small Arkansas town.

BY NANCY HOGLAND | Gassville, Arkansas | February 11, 2008

Ed Broyles, a self-proclaimed worry wart who previously stressed over all the small stuff, said he now has a new perspective on life.

Broyles and his family were inside their home in Gassville last Tuesday when the house was broadsided by a tornado. The structure looked like it had been dumped into a mammoth blender, spun until it was shredded into a million tiny pieces, then poured out onto its concrete slab. All that was left standing was the bathroom vanity and the kitchen table holding a pitcher of just-made ice tea.

However, the entire family all walked away without a scratch.

And although Broyles, a military contractor who was home on leave from Iraq, had no insurance on the home or on its contents, he said he knows everything will be alright because he still has his family.

“This really opened my eyes. Nothing else matters to me anymore,” he said.

“God’s hand was all over this town. There’s no other explanation. Look at these homes and listen to the people’s stories. . . What’s even more incredible is all the help that’s arrived! There are hundreds of total strangers here helping us clean up or bringing us food. There is no other explanation for it. This is God’s handiwork,” Broyles said emphatically.

A volunteer with the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief organization who asked not to be identified said hearing those kinds of stories from the residents was refreshing.

“We’re here to help because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. But it’s really great when God gets the glory for it,” he said.

Broyles is just one of close to 200 Gassville residents whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged in the series of tornadoes that began in Arkansas, and then continued on through the south.

Cynthia Ferguson and her husband Shane, next-door neighbors to Broyles, also witnessed what they called “a miracle.” Right before the tornado hit, the couple had been watching television with their son and two children Cynthia was babysitting when they looked out the front window and saw their trees bending in half. Shane grabbed the kids and ran to the bathroom while Cynthia raced down the hall to retrieve her two napping daughters.

But just like a scene from the movie “Poltergeist,” when she got to the door, it slammed in her face.

“I had to throw my body against it to get it to open. Then I screamed for the girls to run. My 6-year-old ran tore past me but when I looked over at my 4-year-old I saw her little legs running but she was lifted up off the ground her feet weren’t touching the floor and she was getting sucked backwards. I grabbed her hand and yanked her out of the room and just as I did, the windows blew out of the house and the door slammed shut again,” she said.

They made it to the bathroom, where they safely rode out the storm. And while their house sustained much damage, no one was injured.

“I don’t think we’ll ever forget this,” Cynthia said, adding that she too was amazed and overwhelmed by the amount of help that had shown up without being asked. “We are so grateful for everything.”

All up and down the streets, the scene was the same.

More than 60 members from Mennonite Disaster Service, who drove from all over the Midwest to help clear debris from yards, methodically moved from yard to yard, chainsaws buzzing, backhoes scooping up the broken limbs and then piling them into huge open trailers.

Volunteers from the Unity Missionary Baptist Church, the Gassville Church of Christ and the Salvation Army cruised the bustling streets, delivering bottled water, snacks and bagged lunches to workers. On Highway 62, the town’s “main drag,” several organizations and private individuals manned stockpiles of bottled water, energy drinks, and cleaning and personal hygiene supplies and handed them out as residents pulled up.

In the midst of all the commotion, 89-year-old Maxine Campbell, an immigrant from Okinawa who spoke broken English, spent Saturday morning huddled over a box, calmly and silently wrapping up what was left of her cherished antiques as she stood on top of what was once her dining room ceiling.

Campbell was home alone when the tornado hit and because she didn’t know what else to do, she sat down on her living room couch, covered up with a blanket and prayed. Neighbors who ran to her house after the tornado raged out of town found her sitting on her couch, untouched. Although the rest of her furniture and belongings were smashed and strewn around the room, and the ceiling was now on the floor, not even a hair on her head was mussed.

“They said it was like she was encircled in a bubble,” her grandson said, looking around the room, then up at the open sky. “It had to be God. There’s no other explanation.”

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