JOPLIN – Relentless rain, strong thunderstorms, and the threat of another tornado are holding back efforts to move forward with rescue and cleanup two days after the May 22 tornado that has killed at least 125 people, including three worshipping at a local church.
The weather is not cooperating. The Weather Channel forecast for the evening of May 24 calls for a strong chance (70 percent) of storms and winds of 20-30 miles per hour. Occasional thunderstorms may be severe, with damaging winds, large hail and possibly even another tornado. Wednesday’s forecast is just as bleak with an 80 percent chance of rain and more strong winds that may produce large hail.
Greg Walker, student pastor at Forest Park Baptist Church, asked for prayers that the constant rain and lightning would stop.
“It would be a huge help,” he said. “People go out to work and then they have to run right back.”
Steve Patterson, director of missions for Spring River Baptist Association based in Joplin, said the rescue and cleanup process is barely moving these 48 hours after the tornado.
“It’s been a long, strange prep stage,” he said. “Everybody is so ready to do something. We just don’t want to get in the way of search and rescue work.”
Patterson said Disaster Relief (DR) assessment crews are staging to move in as soon as the city gives them the go-ahead. A DR Incident Command Center was set up May 23 at the Baptist Student Union of Missouri Southern State University and a meeting was held May 24 to regroup DR efforts and focus.
Trained DR volunteers should check in through their DR chain of command.
Online donations can be made through www.mobaptist.org/mbcdr.
On Sunday evening, 53 people at Harmony Heights Baptist Church were listening to the sermon when storm sirens began to sound. Pastor Charlie Burnett moved everyone into the designated storm shelter interior rooms of the church (it had no basement). Moments later, the tornado hit the church, tearing it apart.
“It is a miracle that many survived,” Patterson said.
Empire Baptist Church, which is near the heavily damaged hospital that has received lots of news play, was likely a total loss, according to Patterson. No one was injured there.
“The whole sanctuary wall collapsed and that caused the roof to cave in and the windows to blow out,” he said.
Eastvue Baptist Church was spared, but its pastor, Tim Sumners, is one of the hundreds whose homes were destroyed. Patterson added that all of the churches affiliated with the association had at least one member who lost a home. John Marshall, president of the Missouri Baptist Convention and pastor of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, reported that Forest Park, the largest church in Joplin, has several injured church members and one fatality. More than 30 members lost their homes.
“As a church, we’re doing pretty good considering, but we’re trying to look outside our walls,” Walker said. “Everybody knows someone who lost someone. Some of our students have lost their homes, but as far as I know they’re OK.”
The facility of Forest Park was unharmed and has been serving as a collection point for donated items. Most feeding is being done on the campus of Missouri Southern State University.
The death toll of 117 is the highest for any one single tornado in the United States since a 1953 twister hit Flint, Mich., killing 116, FoxNews.com reported. Several sources have indicated to The Pathway, which is the Missouri denominational partner of Baptist Press, that the number of fatalities will grow.
BRIAN KOONCE / STAFF WRITER