CLINTON, Ark. (BP)–A concrete slab is all that remains of Arkansas pastor Kyle Blanton’s home after an EF-4 tornado leveled the parsonage as he and his family huddled together inside.
Miraculously, all six family members survived.
“We have no doubt that the hand of God kept us alive,” said Blanton, pastor of Pee Dee Baptist Church of Clinton. “Statistically, we should not be here. We were hit dead on. There is nothing left of the house but splinters..”
Blanton’s wife, Amy, and sons, Chase, 5, and Hunter, 11, were transported to the hospital and treated for deep wounds, minor fractures and bruises. Doctors at first believed two lacerations on Chase’s back had pierced his liver but later said he would be fine.
“Everything around us was destroyed, but the six of us made it out alive,” Blanton said. “We have been telling everyone that we know the Lord is the reason we are still here.”
Blanton was visiting a church member at the Ozark Health Medical Center Feb. 5 when hospital officials announced a tornado had been spotted and was headed straight for Clinton.
Concerned about the potential bad weather, Blanton left the hospital and drove the few miles to his home. He found his wife and four children sitting on the bathroom floor.
Not five minutes later, the parsonage was a pile of splinters.
“Within a few minutes after I got home, I heard what I thought was loud, mean thunder,” recalls Blanton, adding that his home immediately started vibrating. “Amy said, ‘I think that is the tornado. I think it is here. Do you feel the pressure change?'”
That instant, as they huddled together, Blanton said the house started coming apart at the seams.
“In a split second, we felt the wind moving, glass breaking … and the house was disintegrating around us,” he said. “We didn’t even realize that the winds were moving us too.”
The family of six ended up on the ground, amidst piles of rubble, about 15 feet from where the bathroom had been.
Only God could have helped his family survive the killer storm, Blanton said.
Immediately after the twister hit, he helped his family climb out of the rubble and tried to go for help. Unaware, at the time, of the extent of Amy and the boys’ injuries, Blanton said, “I knew my keys were gone, but I thought that if I could get to my truck, I could get to the extra key to our van and maybe go for help.”
He couldn’t locate his truck, which was later found about a mile away from the house.
“It was flattened like a pancake,” he said. The family van also was destroyed.
Blanton and his wife then carried their shoeless children down the driveway and flagged down a utility worker who offered to take them to the hospital. They drove only about 50 yards before they were forced to stop by downed power lines and trees.
Not long afterward, they spotted a policeman who managed to get Amy and the boys to the hospital. The utility worker took Blanton and his daughters to a deacon’s home nearby. About two hours later, they were able to make it to the hospital to check on the rest of the family.
The morning following the devastating tornadoes, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and several Baptist associations deployed disaster relief feeding units, chainsaw recovery units and crisis chaplains to seven of the hardest-hit Arkansas locations.
ABSC staff members also traveled to hard-hit areas across the state to offer direct assistance to victims, particularly Baptist church members in need. Noting he was not expecting such support, Blanton expressed his appreciation to ABSC staff and Executive Director Emil Turner, who telephoned him from South Asia to offer his support.
“I have always bragged about our convention and disaster relief volunteers, who are willing to help out in times of need,” said Blanton. “But I had no idea they would be here so fast. To have such rapid response is overwhelming. It is just overwhelming.
“I am very proud.”
For now, the family is staying in an apartment owned by a church member. The parsonage was fully insured, but the family had no renters insurance.
Blanton asked Arkansas Baptists to pray for his community and for his wife and sons’ injuries.
“So many people are hurting and have lost everything,” he said. “Everything they have has been blown away. Pray that God will heal both those who are hurt physically and those who are hurt emotionally and spiritually.”
Stella Prather is the associate editor of the Arkansas Baptist News, newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.