PADUCAH, Ky. — Approximately 40 preschoolers and 10 adults were unharmed as they took refuge inside the safe room at their church while a tornado ripped through Paducah, Kentucky on Thursday.
“There were probably 50 of us total that didn’t even have a scratch, so I mean nobody can give any credit to that except God,” Michelle Rushing, preschool director at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, told local television station WPSD.
According to reports, the EF-2 tornado touched down just before 9:30 a.m., affecting an estimated five mile stretch in McCracken County.
Rushing, becoming aware of the impending twister, hurried the children into the innermost room, according to the storm plan. Baptist Press reports that the children sang songs such as “Jesus Loves Me” and “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands” as the tornado raged.
“We were singing with the kids. We just blocked out anything else that was going on and was occupied with making sure the kids were safe,” volunteer Toni Mathis told WPSD.
“My ears popped, and I knew this was it,” also recalled teacher Lauren Haneline. “But there was so much peace and a calming in that room. I’ve never felt God’s hands on me like I felt that day. I knew we were going to be okay.”
While the church was severely damaged, the room where the children were gathered was not touched. Photographs and video footage show the roof ripped off one wing of the building where the sanctuary was, an airbound piece of the roof lodged into the middle section of the building, and then lesser damage to the roof where the children had been taking shelter.
Hanline noted that the nursery was just across the hall from where the children were gathered, and “the roof is gone” there. Video footage shows pieces of the ceiling panels and insulation that had fallen into the nursery beds.
“It’s that close,” she said. “We really were protected by God.”
Homes across the street from the tornado were also unharmed, although debris from the church blew into their yard.
“The almighty hand of God has provided safety to our community,” Sheriff Matt Carter told the West Kentucky Star.
“The destruction path is approximately five miles long. There are approximately three homes that are devastated, but no injuries, and also there is approximately a half-dozen other homes that has sustained minor to moderate damage,” he outlined. “This could have been an extremely high fatality rate, and we’re very fortunate and blessed to only report that one minor injury.”
Mathis said that the severity of the situation, and the miracle that took place, set in once the twister was over.
“I think it didn’t really hit me until about 10 minutes after the tornado, after I left here, what could have happened, and why God was on our side, and why He was even with us moments leading up to the tornado,” she stated.
Mt. Zion Baptist Church held its worship services this past Sunday at Family Life and Worship Center, where they reflected on the situation and thanked God for His protection.
“A church really is not a building. A church is not property. A church is the people of God,” Wes Connor, the senior pastor, told WPSD. “When you look at this building, and you see the destruction, and you recognize it had about 50 people in this facility when this hit and no one had a scratch on them, I think that is what really gives us the focus of what all of this tragedy is all about.”