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Couple thankful to be alive following latest twisters

WALTER HILL, Tenn. (BP)–Joyce Summar knew storms were coming and that they would likely hit during the night.

So before she went to bed May 10, she prayed that God would protect her family, their farm animals and the people in the area.

“He answered all three of those prayers,” she told Baptist Press after storms swept through Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee the night of May 10 and the morning of May 11, capping a week of devastation that has claimed at least 44 lives.

The latest series of storms did extensive damage to areas in three states but killed only one person, according to media reports. One of the twisters hit the small community of Walter Hill in Rutherford County, which is some 40 miles southeast of Nashville. Summar and her husband, Don, survived a tornado that swept through their community about 3:45 a.m. May 11. It destroyed three small buildings on their farm, but — except for some minor roof damage — avoided their house.

They are members of First Baptist Church in Walter Hill, where she serves as secretary. She estimates that the tornado came within a few feet of their house.

“We were very blessed,” Summar said.

There was little warning that a tornado was on the way. She did not hear the “freight train” sound commonly associated with tornadoes, she said. In fact, they were taking cover in a closet when the tornado hit.

“I didn’t think anything had happened,” Summar said. “When it got quiet I was looking out our door, and through the lightning I could see debris laying in the field. I said, ‘Well, something’s happened.'”

She soon saw the damage.

“I told him, your shed building’s gone,” she said.

The roof of one of their buildings “is in my neighbor’s yard,” Summar added.

The church building was not damaged.

The tornado was an F3 tornado on the Fujita scale, which means its winds were between 158 and 206 mph. An F0 tornado is the weakest, F5 the strongest. It destroyed four homes in the Walter Hill community, The Tennessean newspaper reported.

A weaker tornado hit Williamson County in Tennessee, uprooting trees and doing minor damage to area churches.

The tornadoes were the latest of set twisters that ravaged the Volunteer State. A Franklin, Tenn., couple, Larry and Judy Barnhill, had several buildings on their property destroyed early in the morning of May 5. But their house was not damaged and they were fine. They are members of Walker Memorial Baptist Church in Franklin, where Judy teaches Sunday School.

“It really got loud,” she said. “We heard that train sound that people talk about.”

After the second set of tornadoes moved through Williamson County, she said her husband said, “I guess from time to time the Lord just has to let people know in a very tangible way that He’s still in charge.”

Storm damage has kept disaster relief volunteers throughout the state busy. Lloyd Blackwell, disaster relief director for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, said teams were assessing the damage in Williamson and Rutherford counties.

Teams are still working in Jackson in Madison County, which sustained major damage from a previous tornado.

“We have teams from seven other states working with us in Jackson,” he said. “We requested that help.”

Flood recovery volunteers known as “mud-out teams” from three other states are on standby and could begin working in Hamilton and Marion counties May 13, he said.

Following is a brief summary of disaster relief operations in other states:

KENTUCKY — Hardin, Mercer and Hart counties were hit by tornadoes early the morning of May 11. Teams from the Kentucky Baptist Convention were assessing the damage, although a chainsaw crew had been sent to Rineyville in Hardin County, according to Peggy Murphy of the KBC.

The storm killed one person and injured at least 12 in the state, The Courier-Journal newspaper reported.

ILLINOIS — Tornadoes were reported in 10 Illinois counties, according to the Associated Press. South Pekin and Lima were two of the more heavily damaged towns.

A meal unit was deployed May 11 to serve South Pekin, according to Jack Shelby, director of Baptist men’s ministry and volunteers in missions for the Illinois Baptist State Convention. It is based in Peoria and is serving about 1,200 meals a day.

The convention also has a crew serving 1,000 meals a day to the Pulaski, Massac and Pope counties region. Chainsaw teams also are serving in the three-county area.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust