Tornadoes damage homes, meetinghouses

More than a dozen homes of Church members were destroyed or received major damage from scores of tornadoes that touched down in eight central and southeastern states on Sunday, May 4.

By May 7, area presidencies had reported that all missionaries and members were safe in the affected states, which included Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee, with lesser damage in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and South Dakota.

But there were reports of damage to Church meetinghouses in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee. And the Church's historic Liberty Jail Visitors Center in Liberty, Mo., incurred major damage to its roof, even as missionary guides continued to conduct tours in the basement of the center during the storm. The jail is where the Prophet Joseph and five of his brethren were imprisoned during the winter of 1838-39 and where he received the revelations now designated as Sections 121-123.

President G. Tim Goodman of the Springfield Missouri Stake saw it as providential that hours before the tornado hit, he and presidents of the Joplin, St. Roberts and Springfield South stakes met in a welfare meeting.

"We even touched on what to do if a tornado hit in a broad area," said President Goodman, who is the regional welfare chairman for the four stakes. "We got to touch bases and do some fine tuning to indicate what would happen if a tornado hit in more than one stake, how all the channels would work. A few hours later, we put it all into action."

About 6 p.m. a tornado demolished the downtown area and some homes in Stockton, Mo. Five Church-member homes were destroyed there, and in nearby Joplin, four families lost everything, President Goodman said.

"By the next morning, every member was accounted for in the four-stake area," he said.

Most of the Church members were at home when the storm struck, he said. But Liz Davis, a stake member, was with President Goodman and others at a seminary graduation while her other children were still at home. "A neighbor, not a member of the Church, thought to call up to the Davis home," he said. "She told the children to run down the road and get in her basement with her family."

A few minutes later, the tornado struck Sister Davis' house.

President Timothy A. Taylor of the Memphis Tennessee North Stake said he was watching the ABC Television Network news program "Nightline" on Monday night showing the devastation in Jackson, Tenn., which is part of his stake. He thought he recognized a family in the news coverage who had lost their home when two trees fell on it. As he checked, he found that the home indeed belonged to the Dupree and Margaret Davis family, members of his stake.

He said the bishop of their ward, the Jackson Ward, was checking to assess the rebuilding and assistance that would be needed.

Also in Jackson, the ward mission leader, Tommy Sharp, took the four missionaries, one set of elders and another of sisters, into his home to wait out the storm and ensure their safety.

Both President Goodman and President Taylor said that priesthood quorums were working to marshal the efforts of skilled members to address the damage that had occurred and relieve distress.

Incidents were still occurring by midweek as a twister touched down in DeSoto, Mo., at 7 p.m. May 6. It inflicted roof damage to the home of President David Sylvester of the St. Louis Missouri South Stake, said Garry R. Flake, director of the Humanitarian Service Division of Church Welfare Services.

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