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Tornado survivors turn to churches


ARLINGTON, TX (April 13, 2000) -- Local churches have provided both rapid response and longer-term support to hundreds of survivors whose homes were destroyed or heavily damaged by tornadoes which hit Fort Worth last month.

Ed Dureus, pastor of outreach and pastoral care at Cornerstone Baptist Church of Arlington, said he has visited and prayed with 30 families, whose homes were severely damaged by a twister which rendered more than 100 homes uninhabitable in a south Arlington middle-class subdivision.

"It was the longest 27 seconds I lived," said Dureus. He and others were meeting at the church when a twister hit less than a half-mile north. A hail and windstorm preceded the tornado. "I thank God for preserving our lives," he said.

Later that evening he visited Andre and Wanda Knox, whose house on Chasemore Lane was heavily damaged. Winds took the roof off the garage smashing a car beneath the rubble. The family evacuated the house and lived in a motel for more than a week, then moved to a nearby apartment. Two weeks after the storm, the house sits under huge black tarps, which flap in the breeze.

Cornerstone's outreach ministry offered immediate help and spiritual support to families whose homes were devastated. The church provided food, incidentals, and cash donations to get survivors through the first few days of their ordeal. Since then, pastors and volunteers have checked on families regularly.

"Getting over the shock of losing their homes is the primary problem (of the survivors)," said Dureus. "Many have worked hard for their dream home. Some are immigrants from other countries and this is their first house. They are devastated."

The 2,000-member church will concentrate on counseling that bolsters survivors through the process of rebuilding their homes, while they restore their belongings and lives, said Dureus. "Emotionally struck, many were shaking and crying," he said.

The neighborhood is still eerie with silence broken only by the noise of hammers pounding nails into new roof singles. The sounds of children playing are absent. Huge dumpsters have replaced cars on driveways. Debris still litters lawns. Windows are boarded up with plywood supplied by a local homebuilder store. Huge plastic tarps shroud exposed rooms. Lawns are gouged with broken tree limbs and shards from brick walls.

Following up with survivor families is like counseling people who have had a loved one die, said Dureus. A couple of families are grieving even more deeply than most because they had recently lost loved ones right before the storm. One mother just experienced the suicide of her 15-year-old son last month.

But there is also joy. Because of the church‚s intervention in their lives, the Knox family has joined the Cornerstone church. Dureus said their children, Brian, 12, and Andrea, 10, were baptized last Sunday.

Dozens of other churches also positively intervened in the lives of their neighbors following the tornadoes in Fort Worth. One of those was First United Methodist Church downtown. The tornadoes skirted that church, but its neighbors weren‚t so fortunate.

More than 200 people living in Hunter Plaza, a public housing unit for elderly and disabled lower-income residents, were evacuated immediately from their apartments following the storm. The building was heavily damaged by the 135-mile-per-hour winds that left downtown looking like a war zone. Glass from blown-out skyscraper windows showered the streets below.

Sandy Smith, director of missions for the First United Methodist Church, said the church was already prepared to help its neighbors through its mission and outreach ministries to inner-city residents, including a mission center opened three days a week which provides food and essential household items.

Church volunteers pitched in the night of the tornadoes to help evacuate residents. Smith added that, the day after the tornadoes, several volunteers helped their Hunter Plaza neighbors settle into temporary apartments. "We provided blankets, towels, hygiene kits, groceries, and clothes." Residents had left their homes with only the clothes on their backs. Immediately after the storm, the building was declared unsafe by city housing authorities. Hunter Plaza esidents still don‚t know when they‚ll be able to return to their homes.

Two days after the tornadoes, when the police opened downtown streets, the mission center was open for business. Smith said, "We told everyone that we are here, we are open, and we‚re here to help."

Besides local churches, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army, and American Red Cross are among other agencies aiding in Fort Worth's recovery.

Posted April 13, 2000

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