NEW ORLEANS (BP) — An EF-3 tornado that touched down in eastern New Orleans yesterday (Feb. 7) heavily damaged a Southern Baptist church’s facility and briefly interrupted a chapel service at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Initial reports estimated 250 homes damaged with 31 people injured. No fatalities have been reported.
The tornado — one of several to strike Louisiana Tuesday — devastated the three-building campus of Suburban Baptist Church in New Orleans, a predominately African American congregation. Pastor Jeffery Friend and his wife Stephanie were not injured, though their home was heavily damaged, Stephanie Friend told Louisiana’s Baptist Message newsjournal.
Friend posted on Facebook that she is “praising God for lives spared” but “devastated at the loss of our church and our home.”
Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief workers arrived Feb. 8 to assess damage to the Friends’ home, the church campus and a pastorium occupied by a New Orleans Seminary student and his family.
“I know who Jesus is,” Stephanie Friend said according to a report from New Orleans Seminary, “so I’m not concerned about my well-being. I’m just trusting Him to do what He does.”
Suburban Baptist and its neighborhood also sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The New Orleans Baptist Association is providing a room for the Friends at Providence House, the hotel operated by New Orleans Seminary.
“Please join us in prayer for churches and families affected by the severe weather in our region today,” the association said in an email. “Early reports tell of severe damage to at least one church, Suburban Baptist, and several homes in New Orleans East.
“As soon as we have more information regarding damages and the response of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, we will communicate requests, as well as material, ministerial, and volunteer needs via e-mail and on our website,” the associated stated.
At New Orleans Seminary, President Chuck Kelley began a Feb. 7 chapel service with an announcement about potential storms and a prayer for the region. When weather intensified some five minutes later, campus police interrupted the service and attendees sheltered in place.
The tornado touched down about three miles away before passing. The service resumed in 10-15 minutes, and no damage to the campus was reported.
Later in the day, Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief workers gathered at the seminary’s Leavell Center for Church Growth and Evangelism in preparation for assessing damage in the area.
Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief director Gibbie McMillan told volunteer DR workers, “What we’re trying to do is be the hands and feet of Jesus to [storm victims] and let them know we care in a tangible way.”
McMillan urged prayer for area residents and said he plans to set up a webpage for online donations to the relief effort.
“We know there will be a need for teams and resources soon to help with the situation,” McMillan said.
Several Louisiana communities were hit hard with severe weather, with the National Weather Service reporting tornado touchdowns Tuesday in multiple communities between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
As of mid-afternoon Feb. 7, more than 10,000 people were without power due to the tornadoes.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency for much of southeastern Louisiana.
“I am heartbroken to once again see Louisiana families suffering in the wake of devastating tornadoes today,” Edwards said in a news release. “We are working tirelessly to ensure that every citizen affected by this storm receives the resources they need as quickly as possible.”
While weaker tornadoes are relatively common in the New Orleans metro area, strong tornadoes are rare, according to a report from New Orleans Seminary. The damage that occurred Feb. 7 “is unprecedented in scope and severity for a tornado in the New Orleans city limits.”
Seminary administrators are working to assess how many students and faculty members were impacted by the tornadoes.