Thirteen member families of Peace Lutheran Church, Greensburg, Kan., “lost everything — their homes, furniture, clothing, all their possessions” to the May 4 tornado that all but flattened the town of 1,500 and killed 10 residents, according to the congregation’s pastor.
The tornado also destroyed the LCMS congregation’s church building.
Rev. Timothy Henning, pastor of Peace (with about 65 baptized members) and of Our Savior Lutheran Church in nearby Pratt, Kan., added that he is not aware that any members of the Greensburg congregation were injured or killed in the tornado, and that those who lost their homes are living with family or friends.
LCMS Kansas District President Keith Kohlmeier called Greensburg the “epicenter” of the F5 tornado, which caused devastation 1.7 miles wide as it pounded Greensburg and whipped destruction along a 60-mile corridor through the communities of Claflin, Ellinwood, Macksville, and Holyrood, and into rural areas.
In Holyrood, one LCMS family reportedly lost all its farm’s outbuildings to the tornado, another had extensive roof damage, and a third family incurred roof damage as its home sat in floodwater.
The storm also caused water damage –- and possibly structural damage — to the chancel at Zion Lutheran Church, Claflin.
Numerous tornadoes and thunderstorms hit Kansas in the days before and after the F5 tornado that destroyed a reported 90 percent of Greensburg’s infrastructure. In addition, floodwater covered parts of Kansas after more than 10 inches of rain fell over the weekend.
President George W. Bush declared portions of the state a disaster area within two days after the tornado, releasing federal aid to residents.
Rev. Glenn Merritt and Rev. Carlos Hernandez — director of Disaster Response and director of Districts and Congregations, respectively, with LCMS World Relief/Human Care — accompanied Henning in Greensburg May 7 as they visited and prayed with members of Peace when residents were allowed back into the community to search for belongings.
Merritt said that at the site of Peace Lutheran, members found the church register, along with rain-soaked church photo albums and history books among the rubble.
“Nothing else was salvageable,” he said of the church-property search.
Merritt described the devastation in Greensburg: “360 degrees in every direction, it’s a massive debris field … even more utterly destructive than [after Hurricane] Katrina, if you can believe that.”
He said that members of two Peace families who lost their homes indicated that they do not plan to rebuild in Greensburg.
“Peace will hold a worship service on Sunday [May 13] in the midst of debris to thank God for His mercy and grace in sustaining the members of the congregation,” Merritt wrote via e-mail.
LCMS World Relief/Human Care gave a $30,000 emergency grant — to be administered by Our Savior Lutheran Church, Pratt — to help the members of Peace, Greensburg, meet immediate needs. The Synod’s mercy arm also announced that it would match donations up to a total of $200,000 for those affected by tornadoes.
To support LCMS World Relief/Human Care’s disaster-response efforts in Greensburg and elsewhere, send donations to LCMS World Relief/Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-9810. Write “Kansas tornadoes” in the memo line. To donate via credit card, call (888) 930-4438.
“We have assured Pastor Henning and the members of Peace that they continue to be in our prayers, and offered our full assistance,” said Merritt, who stressed the importance of monetary donations to help those recovering from the storms.
Merritt emphasized that donations of clothes and food are not needed at this time. He added that volunteers may be needed later, with Lutheran Disaster Response likely coordinating those future volunteer efforts.
Merritt and Hernandez joined local pastors and lay leaders, Kohlmeier, representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Central States Synod, Lutheran Disaster Response, the LCMS Kansas District Disaster Response team, Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, health and mental-health agencies, and others at Our Savior, Pratt, for a May 8 meeting to discuss “how best to respond as the body of Christ to the needs and loss in the area,” according to Merritt.
“No coalitions were formed,” Merritt said of that meeting. “We simply talked about how to respond to this disaster and similar disasters and listened to descriptions of the event from [its] victims and survivors,” Merritt said.