JOPLIN – With storm sirens sounding, Greg Hailey closed his Bible, put it safely in a nylon satchel and used it to rest his head. Harmony Heights Baptist Church had no basement, but Hailey and 52 others took cover as a tornado interrupted their evening worship service May 22.
“There were about 10 or so of us in the library,” he said, “and there were others in the nursery. That’s the older part of the church with smaller rooms and better-built walls. We had maybe 10 minutes’ warning to take cover.”
The EF-5 tornado (wind speed 200- 322 mph) tore a 6-mile-wide swath through town, destroying 8,000 homes and businesses, injuring 900 and killing at least 125. Three of those 125 – three women – were taking shelter in the nursery in Harmony Heights.
The Harmony Heights building, at the intersection of Indiana Ave. and 20th Street, is a total loss. The roof is nowhere to be found, the walls collapsed and there are two crumpled cars, one on top of the other, in the back of the auditorium. Hailey’s home did not suffer any damage, although his son’s was completely destroyed, as were several other church members’.
“It was the typical noise: ‘It sounded like a freight train,’” he said. “Then you could hear glass breaking. Things were falling on my back, but I didn’t know what it was, you know? I could move, but I was laying stomach down and couldn’t see.”
Just seconds later, it was over.
“I started feeling rain and could suddenly see daylight,” he said. “I knew the worst had passed.”
From there, he and the others helped each other out of the wreckage, and they began searching for those that were missing or had lost their lives.
Hailey returned three days later to the pile of rubble that used to be the church’s building to search for the Bible he had to leave behind. After a few minutes picking through the splintered wood and shattered bricks, he found it as he was speaking to The Pathway. Because it was in the water-resistant satchel, the Bible withstood the days of rain that followed the tornado.
“I knew where it was at,” he said. “I’m just glad I found it.”
BY BRIAN KOONCE/ staff writer