By Roger Drinnon
After a “wedge” tornado ripped through some rural towns in Northern Illinois April 9, Lutherans continue to respond with compassion, care and, most importantly, the Gospel.
The Rev. Michael Meyer, disaster-response manager for the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM), traveled from the Synod’s International Center in St. Louis to affected towns like Rochelle, Ill., April 10. He joined more than 275 volunteers from Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) and LCMS districts across Illinois to assist the distressed communities.
“When we arrived, we saw the tornado had hit with a wide swath, bringing trees down onto houses, ripping the roofs off others, and some houses were only slabs,” said Meyer. “For the first 48 hours, a lot of people are working on adrenalin, trying to recover.”
The reported EF-4 tornado came with wind speeds of 166-200 miles- per- hour; EF-5 is the highest tornado rating used by the National Weather Service when a tornado’s wind speed exceeds 200 mph. Wedge tornadoes are typically wider than other twisters and can be mistaken for large, dark cloud formations in some cases. This one came suddenly, around 7 p.m. April 9, leaving local residents stunned by its swift devastation.
“At first, you think everyone is overreacting, then you start hearing ambulances,” said Robert Challand, a 45-year-old Rochelle resident who has lived there most of his life. Challand’s two children attend St. Paul Lutheran Church and School in Rochelle, which became a staging facility for LCC disaster-response volunteers. “Thankfully, there was an open house going on at Tilton Elementary that may have saved about a dozen families who would have been in their houses when the storm came through.”
“It wasn’t until Friday morning that we were able to find out the damage left by the tornado,” said the Rev. Greg Hoffmann, pastor at St. Paul. “People are in shock, and some are still waiting for relatives to show up.”
Hoffmann said he is amazed by the timely response of the volunteers who came to help.
“We have over 275 volunteers here, including chainsaw crews and 14 comfort dogs with 18 handlers,” said Tim Hetzner, the Northern Illinois District disaster-response coordinator and LCC president.
Hetzner said in addition to Rochelle, other affected Illinois towns include Fairdale, Kirkland and Lindenwood, and the storm’s path also included a lot of farmland.
Synod ONM disaster responders like Meyer provide care, comfort and relief for disaster victims while providing the assurance of the Gospel throughout the exasperating experience of recovering from such a crisis.
“We can be confident that God is here protecting these people, and He will use this terrible tragedy for good,” Meyer said.
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Roger Drinnon (email@example.com) is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.
Posted April 13, 2015 / Updated April 14, 2015 / Updated April 23, 2015