Tenn. church mourns tornado victims


MADISON, Tenn. (AP) – The Metro Baptist Church congregation gathered under a basketball scoreboard and state championship banners in a school gymnasium Sunday, a temporary place to worship after a twister ripped the church building’s stucco and concrete blocks from its steel frame two days earlier.

The Rev. Phil Martin showed members photos of crumpled ceilings and pews filled with splintered wood and debris as he recalled how he looked out his window Friday and saw the whirling, black tornado heading toward him.

Members were thankful no one was hurt in the Goodlettsville church, just north of Nashville.

“We were all in a state of shock to realize how close it really was,” said Jessica Lankford, one of the church’s preschool teachers who rushed 35 children to a windowless room and told them all to crawl under the chairs.

Metro Baptist was among dozens of churches in the area that mourned the 12 people killed when the powerful storm rolled over Tennessee.

It was the second round of deadly storms to hit the state in a week; twisters killed 24 people the previous weekend and four others died in Missouri and Illinois.

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Randy Harris said Sunday that the tornado that killed nine people in Sumner County on Friday had been tentatively classified as an F-3 on the five-step Fujita scale, with wind of about 165 mph.

Harris said about 160 people were injured and roughly 3,000 homes, businesses and farms were damaged or destroyed in 20 counties.

“It could have been much, much worse. We feel very blessed today that we can have another building to come to,” Lankford said of Metro Baptist’s private school in nearby Madison.

In hard-hit Gallatin, close to 400 members of the Hartsville Pike Church of Christ sang “Shelter in the Time of Storm” as they gathered for Sunday’s service.

At least four members of the church lost their homes. The Red Cross set up a disaster relief site at the church and congregation members helped.

“It’s a war zone out there – utter war zone,” said the Rev. Jeremy Brown, a minister at the Hartsville church. “It looks like people had started fighting and we lost the fight.”