December storms leaves path of destruction across several states

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance teams assess damage from tornadoes and flooding

January 8, 2016

A neighborhood street in Rowlett, Texas, heavily damaged by an EF3 tornado. As many as 446 homes were damaged and 23 people were injured.

A neighborhood street in Rowlett, Texas, heavily damaged by an EF3 tornado. As many as 446 homes were damaged and 23 people were injured. —Cheryl Taylor

LOUISVILLE

The Christmas holidays were not so merry and bright for people across six Midwestern and southern states as stormy weather wreaked havoc in many communities. Parts of Texas, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, New Mexico and Alabama were hit with snow and rain, freezing rain, tornadoes and flooding.

There were reports of more than two dozen tornadoes with as many as 10 hitting the Dallas area on December 26. In Garland, approximately 600 buildings, including multi-family and single family residences were damages. Eight people were killed when tornadoes tossed about a dozen cars into the air.

“In our church, one household was directly impacted by the flooding that followed the twister,” said the Rev. Paul Burns, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Garland. “Garland authorities are well organized and have set up a disaster center. We’ve directed our volunteers to report there to offer help.”

In nearby Rowlett, more than 400 homes were damages; many were total losses.

“We had two families from our congregation whose homes were destroyed. No one was injured,” said the Rev. Cheryl Taylor, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Rockwall. “I started calling other families to ensure everyone was okay. When I got to the church, some of our members offered houses for the two families to stay while other members offered assistance in other ways.”

Taylor says her church offered gift cards for immediate needs and the church approved a love offering for the families. Other members have coordinated additional care through meals, clothing and furniture. Members have joined work crews to help clear out both damaged homes, including renting storage units for the families.

The water line on a building in Pacific, Missouri indicates how high floodwaters reached over the holidays.

The water line on a building in Pacific, Missouri indicates how high floodwaters reached over the holidays. —Anita Hendrix

“One family member took me to their house to see the devastation. He told me he doesn’t cry about what happened or what they lost. He told me he cries when thinking about how kind everyone has been to them,” said Taylor. “As a church, we have been overwhelmed by what it means to be part of a connectional church. We are so blessed to be able to give to our families and the greater community in response to the love we’ve been given.”

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance volunteers recently visited the communities impacted and worshipped in some of the churches including those in Rockwall and Garland.

“As we talked in worship, we are trying to make sure the immediate needs of families are met. Whatever we receive beyond that goes into the community,” added Taylor. “I’ve contacted the Rotary Club to make sure we are at the table when recovery and relief efforts go beyond our church walls. Our plan is to continue what the church has had a reputation of doing for 158 years, reaching out in mission and love to others.”

A tornado in Collin County, Texas killed two people in Copeville as well as an infant in Blue Ridge. More than 200 homes were damaged. PDA deployed a team to Grace Presbytery to assess the damage and begin recovery efforts.

“Several Missouri communities experienced significant, record breaking flooding. I delayed deploying a team into Giddings Lovejoy Presbytery (St. Louis area) until most of the roads were open and the air travel was near normal,” said Rick Turner, national associate for Disaster Response with PDA. “The team is working in the area this week.”

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