Church members assess damage after tornadoes hit Midwest United States

After the tornadoes came tearing through the Midwest United States the night of Dec. 10-11, Bowling Green Kentucky 1st Ward Bishop Craig H. Clifford learned of miracles among the families in his ward.

“One couple took cover in their bathroom. They got into the bathtub and that is where they rode the tornado out. It took off their roof and half their home,” he said.

Another couple was asleep in their bed when they heard the tornado sirens.  

“They stood up, and literally standing on the foundation of their home they saw everything get sucked up and torn away and they were left standing. It’s an absolute miracle they weren’t injured,” said Bishop Clifford. “This is all a tragedy, but we have seen many blessings and protection at the hand of the Lord.”

The storms went through a swatch of Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky, leaving at least 100 people dead and tens of thousands of residents without power.

The home of family in the Bowling Green Kentucky 1st Ward after tornadoes went through the area the night of Dec. 10-11, 2021. The couple rode out the storm in their bathtub and survived the storm.
The home of family in the Bowling Green Kentucky 1st Ward after tornadoes went through the area the night of Dec. 10-11, 2021. The couple rode out the storm in their bathtub and survived the storm. Credit: Provided by Kevin D. Releford

So far, local Church leaders report all Church members are safe and accounted for in those four states, and so are all the missionaries.

At least six members’ homes were destroyed, and more than 50 were damaged. Eleven members’ places of business were damaged or destroyed. And approximately 30 member families were displaced from their residences, according to Elder Jared W. Stone, Area Seventy.

The search and rescue efforts are still underway in those states. Leaders say when they get the go-ahead from local officials, they have many Church volunteers ready to help with clean up efforts.

“The devastation here is horrible. It’s war zone type things,” said Glenda Beck of the Bowling Green 1st Ward.

Kentucky

Kentucky is the hardest hit. Most of the deaths from the storms are in the areas of Mayfield, between Cayce and Beaver Creek, then also Saloma and Bowling Green.

The Paducah Kentucky Stake stretches from Benton, Illinois, to Paris, Tennessee. Stake President Randy Balmforth had been gathering reports of damage all weekend. He said the Mayfield Branch is the most affected, while the Princeton Branch and Calvert City Branch also had a lot of destruction.

Many of his stake members had trees come down on their homes, and three or four homes belonging to members were destroyed.  One estimate for Princeton said 150 homes were destroyed.

“There was a lady in Princeton who, according to the branch president, hid in her closet. When she came out of her closet, that was the last wall. It was the only one still standing in her whole house,” said President Balmforth.

First responders are still clearing debris, he said. But after that, he knows a lot of people are ready and willing to help.

“Everyone has been wanting to volunteer, and it’s been heartwarming to see how many people have reached out and wanted to help. We really appreciate all the prayers and thoughts, and everyone being willing to come,” President Balmforth said.

An aerial view is seen of devastating tornado damage in Mayfield, Ky., Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Tornadoes and severe weather caused catastrophic damage across multiple states Friday, killing several people overnight.
An aerial view is seen of devastating tornado damage in Mayfield, Ky., Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Tornadoes and severe weather caused catastrophic damage across multiple states Friday, killing several people overnight. Credit: Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

Tennessee and Arkansas

The Bowling Green Kentucky 1st Ward is part of the Madison Tennessee Stake. On the Tennessee end of the stake, mostly it was high winds that took down trees.

Stake President Kevin D. Releford said Hendersonville, Tennessee had a lot of downed trees and damaged homes. Church members spent two days with chainsaws going home to home clearing debris. 

“I’ve been absolutely blown away by the compassionate, Christ-like service our members have shown for each other, for their neighbors,” he said.

President Releford said he has been on several area coordinating calls with other stakes in the area as they talk through damage and next steps. They are planning more responses for the days ahead, and are not sure whether the Bowling Green meetinghouse will have power restored by Sunday, Dec. 19. 

Many people were without power as the temperatures dropped. But President Releford said Latter-day Saints opened up their homes to help others.

“Members wrapped their arms around them and made sure they had a place to stay and have the support they need,” he said.

In the Memphis Tennessee North Stake, stake President Scot K. Canfield reported no damage or injury to Church structures or members in his boundaries. But he told the Church News he would continue to monitor the situation. 

His stake boundaries also encompass Leachville, Arkansas, which was hit by tornadoes the same night. And two other Arkansas towns, Trumann and Monette, were also heavily damaged. They are in the Jonesboro Ward boundaries of the Searcy Arkansas Stake. That stake president, David Lewis, said there are a couple of Church members living in each of those towns, but their homes were not affected. President Lewis said local Church members are working to see how they can assist those communities.

Missouri and Illinois

Tornadoes hit Defiance, Missouri, just west of St. Louis, and then Edwardsville, Illinois, on the other side of the Mississippi River. These are in the Lake St. Louis Missouri and Hazelwood Missouri stakes. National news reports say most of the deaths in Illinois came in an Amazon warehouse, which is in the O’Fallon Illinois Stake.

Elder Jeremiah J. Morgan, a North America Central Area Seventy, said there was quite a bit of destruction in the Amazon facility.

“We are looking to see what we can do to assist in communities,” he said.

Lake St. Louis Stake President Bradley N. Lewis said some members in the Defiance area were impacted, but none had major damage to their properties. He said he asked his first counselor, who lives in Defiance, to see how the Church might be a blessing to those affected.

Ministering

Beck described the storm as having lightning and thunder first, then hail, “then a whoosh whoosh whoosh intermittent sound like something turning.” Around 1:42 a.m., she felt the danger had passed. When she woke up the next morning, two blocks away from her home, everything was leveled. 

“The first person at my door was the Relief Society president asking if we were OK,” Beck said.

In fact, Bishop Clifford said the hours and days following the tornado showed the strength and success of the Church’s ministering program. The immediate needs of members were made known through ministering assignments and communication through the Relief Society and elders quorum in his ward. And quickly they started to resolve issues and meet the needs of those most affected — providing generators, food, blankets and places to stay. 

“It was wonderful to see the ministering program work and the Lord’s pattern in action,” he said. 

Supplies and equipment will be shipped to several communities this week, to assist in the relief efforts, said Elder Stone.

“Many members have already started to help their neighbors with debris removal including downed trees, patching damaged roofs with tarps, providing temporary places to live, providing meals and showing compassion and love during this tragic time of immense loss. Local leaders in the Church are coordinating efforts to continue to offer help in the coming days and weeks,” he said.

Note: Information about Arkansas was added on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.