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Tornado tears through two Baptist churches during worship services

XENIA, Ohio (BP)–Two tornadoes tore through a small town in Ohio Sept. 20, killing one person and injuring 145 others, including members of two Southern Baptist churches.

One twister struck Xenia, Ohio, about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, leaving a two-mile path of destroyed buildings, flipped cars and ripped-down power lines. One person died when a tree crushed a car near the Greene County fairgrounds, Sheriff Jerry Erwin told ABC News.

The twister also destroyed Dayton Avenue Baptist Church and Arrowbrook Baptist Church. Keith Jordan, director of church development in nearby Dayton, Ohio, told Baptist Press both sanctuaries were destroyed and the entire roof of Dayton Avenue was blown away.

The tornado hit just as worshippers were holding their weekly prayer meeting. Johnny Tallent, pastor of Arrowbrook Baptist, told Baptist Press he heard the tornado approaching the church.

“First the lights went off,” Tallent said. “And then we heard a freight train sound. The folks knew what was coming next.”

Tallent tried to lead his congregation of 18 believers to the basement, but they were caught by the twister in a hallway.

“We huddled in the hall and laid on top of each other so we wouldn’t get hurt,” Tallent said. However, two members of the church, suffered injuries when the stained glass windows broke, sending shards of glass into the crowded hallway.

Among those injured were Tallent’s wife, and a church deacon. Both were treated and released from a local hospital.

A spokesperson for Miami Valley Hospital said it treated 15 people for injuries including broken bones, head injuries and cuts from flying debris. One woman was reported in critical condition.

Greene Memorial Hospital in Xenia said it treated 100 people last night. Six people have been admitted.

“We are going home by home to see if everybody is OK,” Xenia Mayor John Saraga told ABC.

At Dayton Avenue Baptist Church, Ruby Godfrey told Associated Press that worshippers dove under pews when the storm hit.

“You heard the roar,” Godfrey said. “You saw the roof flying off and then it was gone.”

Bruce Hull was in the church parking lot. “It started to swirl,” Hull said, referring to the funnel cloud. “I heard a train sound and I just laid down in my car.”

At least one person was seriously injured at Dayton Avenue. There was no word on his condition at press time.

The second tornado left about a dozen homes damaged or destroyed when it hit Harlem Township, Ohio, around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft declared a state of emergency in Xenia on Wednesday night and visited the area this morning. He said search and rescue teams were nearly finished searching the town, and he was confident no one was trapped in the debris. Much of the city remained without power, however.

Tallent said anyone wishing to help his church should call 937-374-1055.

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes