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Church damaged, but services go on

Judy Higgenbotham tried her best Saturday to beat the storm home, but she only got as far as her driveway when the wind whipped across Lake Lindsey and the rain poured.

"There was one whoosh of wind . . . and the rain just came down in a gush," she said. "I was stuck in my truck and I sat there for about 10 minutes."

The 3 p.m. wind snatched the roof from a stall on her Lake Lindsey Road property and slammed it into the fence of her yard.

But, compared with her neighbor, the historic Eden Baptist Church, Mrs. Higgenbotham's property damage was slight.

The nearly 50-year-old church building and school sustained about $200,000 in damages, said church secretary Blanche Amsler.

"We had this wind come along across Lake Lindsey and it picked up the roof (of the school) and it picked up cement blocks from a fire wall along the back of both buildings and bombed the building" with that debris, she said.

Water came through the roof of the two-story school and soaked the ceiling of the first-floor classrooms.

Just before the storm hit, Brad Looper, 25, had helped install a new sound-system control board in the sanctuary.

He was carrying a ladder down the hallway of the church's day care center and school when he heard the slamming of debris against the buildings and the shattering of glass, according to his mother, Jean Looper.

"He was frightened and he dropped the ladder and took off running," Mrs. Looper said.

"He ran across the road to the church parsonage, where the preacher lives."

The Rev. Larry Strickland, his son Levi and Brad Looper "saw the roof and the block literally being blown off a part of our church building," Mrs. Looper said. "They first called it a tornado, but now they're saying it was like a wind surge."

The wind then yanked a sycamore tree from the ground in the church cemetery across Lake Lindsey Road from the church, Mrs. Looper said.

The wild wind ceased almost as quickly as it began, according to Mrs. Higgenbotham.

Church deacons called church members Saturday evening, notifying them of the damage.

"We were prepared to sit under the trees" for Sunday's church service, said Mrs. Looper. "McDonald's (restaurant) gave us 100 cups. We took a jug of ice water and the cups. We called Merritt Funeral Home and got 50 fans.

"We've had calls offering help. We did have a call from Turner Funeral Home offering to let us have church in their chapel. The Lake Lindsey Methodist Church offered to let us use their fellowship hall. And an Assembly of God church called. All this happened Saturday night."

But Bruce DeBay was able to wire the Eden fellowship hall, said Amsler.

"He had (electricity) rerouted just half an hour before Sunday School," she said. "So we got the air conditioning cranked up and had Sunday School at 9:45 a.m. and church at 11 in the fellowship hall."

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