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Amid tornado’s devastation, minister’s worst fears ease

MARMADUKE, Ark. (BP)-—Music leader Laramie LeQuieu at First Baptist Church in Marmaduke, Ark., has a new appreciation of how precious life is.

For awhile Sunday night, April 2, LeQuieu feared his wife and three children might be dead in a town where nearly a third of the 500-plus homes were destroyed by one of the tornadoes amid widespread storms across Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and five other states that left 28 people dead.

As First Baptist’s Sunday evening service ended, pastor Kim Bridges prayed for the safety of the townspeople, noted that a tornado warning had been issued and said everyone was welcome to stay in the church’s basement.

LeQuieu decided to stay, but his wife and children headed home.

He and Bridges were making sure everyone who was going to stay at the church had made it to the basement. They checked the building and the parking lot.

“We were standing in front of the church, and we saw the tornado as it was developing and touching down over by the school,” LeQuieu, First Baptist’s associate pastor of music, recounted.

LeQuieu’s home was near the school.

“There is just a fear that comes over you when your loved ones are in danger,” he said. “I could tell the tornado was right where my house is, knowing that my wife and kids had gone to the house.”

He tried to call them but couldn’t get through.

“There’s that uncertainty. Did they know it was coming? Are they safe?”

He and Bridges headed for the basement, where many of the church members were huddled, to wait for the twister to pass.

When they finally came out, LeQuieu noticed that the roof of the family life center was gone and a wall had caved in. “That was the first damage I saw…. My concern was getting home to see about my family.”

He left the church and began to maneuver his way through downed trees and power lines and debris.

“There was no way I could prepare myself for what I was going to see as I came from the church on the way to my house. Down by the church it was pretty bad, and there were trees blown over, but it was nothing compared to what I saw in my neighborhood.”

Much of the neighborhood was leveled. He spotted his house, with a tree through the roof and windows blown out.

“As I pulled in the driveway, I saw my wife and kids coming out of a neighbor’s storm cellar, and I saw they were alive. I knew immediately that the four things in our house that are irreplaceable were healthy and walking, and the rest of it is just stuff. There was a little lesson there about how precious life is.”

Then his concern switched to his neighbors. He and another man from the church began going house to house, checking on people.

His wife and children drove to Paragould, Ark., to stay with friends. He planned to stay to help others any way he could.

“Then I got the call that there was going to be a mandatory evacuation, so I packed up some clothes and stayed with some church members just north of town,” he said.

Early Monday morning, he returned to the town, which, as described by the Scipps Howard News Service, had “block after city block of pulverized homes, crushed vehicles and snapped and uprooted trees” and 47 injuries but no fatalities.

“Sunday night we were just all in shock,” LeQuieu said. “Monday morning, words can’t describe what you are looking at. There is no way words can do it any justice. People called and asked, ‘Is your house gone?’ and it’s like, our whole town is gone.”
Charlie Warren is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News, online at www.arkansasbaptist.org.

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