About 25 people were temporarily stuck in an evangelical church in Kimberly, Ala., Monday night after one of the 13 tornadoes that ravaged the state destroyed most of the church building, trapping those who had been hiding for cover in its basement.
When a tornado began ripping down U.S. 31 on Monday night, congregants and members of the community gathered in the basement of the Kimberly Church of God, located near the highway, to seek shelter. After the tornado passed through, leaving behind broken stained glass and a missing roof, those hiding in the church attempted to escape through a large door in the fellowship hall that had reportedly become jammed during the tornado.
"That fellowhship hall door got wedged somehow," Stan Cooke, the pastor of Kimberly Church of God, told Al.com. The pastor went on to explain that no one panicked about their temporary predicament, but rather kicked down the door to escape the destroyed building. "Somebody knocked it off the hinges. There was no panic, no major injuries. They felt safe the whole time."
Pastor Cooke was not at the church at the time of the tornado, instead seeking shelter with his family at their home, although he was able to communicate with congregants via text message. Stephen Stone, the children's pastor at the church, was with congregants in the basement when the tornado hit.
Cooke added to KABC-TV that when he learned 25 people had sought refuge in the church's community shelter, he feared not for the church building but for his congregants. "I cried. I cried," Cooke said. "The church is not the people, the people are the church."
Other parts of Kimberly were also destroyed during Monday evening's tornado, including the local fire department and North Jefferson Middle School. Kimberly is just one of the many towns affected by the rash of hundreds of tornados that have touched down in the U.S. South and Midwest over the past three days. Arkansas and Mississippi have been hit the hardest , with more than 23 people killed and over 200 injured by the natural disasters, according to Reuters.
Despite the devastating destruction, numerous media outlets have reported on the hope and faith in God maintained by victims of this weekend's tornados. P.J. Boren, a resident of Kimberly, told Al.com in a separate article that she, her nephew, and her two sons were hiding in their basement safe room when her husband, who was standing near the garage door, saw the tornado coming their way at around 10:20 p.m.
"We all kneeled down and started to pray,'' she told Al.com. "The louder the storm got, the louder our praying got. It was surreal." The family then moved a mattress in front of their safe room door just in time to hear a loud explosion and the sound of glass breaking as the tornado tore through their home so forcefully that it even ripped away their garage door.
Kimberly Fire Chief Brian Gober had a similarly harrowing experience at the local fire department, where he, his wife, and three on-duty firefighters sought refuge in the station's office as the tornado approached. Although the fire station was almost completely destroyed and its roof was ripped off, all five of those present did not suffer any injuries. "It was the grace of God,'' Gober told Al.com. "There's no other reason this area right here should have been spared."