By Paula Schlueter Ross
Roy and Erna “Sue” Nolting, longtime members of Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood, Mo., did not expect the New Year’s Eve storm headed for suburban St. Louis to endanger their lives.
Roy, 98 and on oxygen support, uses a walker to get around. His wife is 90. They’d been through lots of storms before, and everything always turned out OK.
But when the wind and rain grew violent and they heard the tornado sirens blaring, they made their way to an interior hallway in the brick ranch they had built in 1960. Roy sat in a wheeled desk chair, and Sue draped herself over her husband, trying to shield him.
The EF3 tornado with 160-mph winds blew down their Sunset Hills, Mo., street within seconds, taking most of their home — and those of their neighbors — along with it.
Afterward, it looked “like a bomb went off,” said their daughter, Laverne Nolting. Just about the only thing still standing on the property, she said, was the hallway where the couple had taken refuge.
It’s “totally” because of God that her parents are still alive, Nolting told Reporter. How else could the tornado have done such damage, even ripping out a huge tree in a neighbor’s yard and breaking it apart, “and my mom and dad — frail now at 90 and 98, holding onto each other — survive?” she asks.
After something like this, she adds, “How can you not believe in God?”
The storms — which damaged 30 homes (nine were demolished) in Sunset Hills, less than a mile from the Synod’s International Center — killed nine people in Missouri and Arkansas, including one in the St. Louis area.
No LCMS churches were hit, according to the LCMS Missouri, Mid-South and Southern Illinois districts, but at least a dozen families from four St. Louis-area Synod congregations reported damages:
- Concordia, Kirkwood, Pastor Scott Seidler told Reporter that two member families (including the Noltings) lost their homes, and another‘s business was damaged.
“All families are well-supported by numerous friends and neighbors along with the Christian community of Concordia,” Seidler said. “While I find that I have a constant stream of offers of financial help, the reality is that the most pressing needs are emotional support and hope.”
Seidler said Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri has offered to provide, free of charge, “post-trauma counseling support to any of the victims of the disaster, regardless of church affiliation.
“The material well-being of these folks seems well on the way to being restored,” he said. “The deeper experiential stress is where I believe the biggest opportunities for Christ-centered ministry are to be found.”
- Two families at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Crestwood, Mo., are dealing with “significant damage” to their homes, although both may be salvageable, according to Pastor Mark Smith.
One member, a widow, “had two different trees come through her roof — one in her living room and one in her kitchen,” Smith said.
“I’ve been to both of these households and I told them, ‘Look, if there’s anything we can do, we’ve got some funds and we’ll exhaust the funds’ on them if we have to,” he said.
“The people I talked to, they said, ‘Just please keep us in your prayers,’ ” Smith said, so he is doing just that and trying to encourage others to join him: he’s posted “Pray for our neighbors in Sunset Hills and East Watson Rd.” on the church’s roadside sign.
- At Resurrection Lutheran Church, Sunset Hills, Pastor Mike Bronner says two families were affected by the storm: one had “considerable damage” to their enclosed deck, roof and siding; the other, “extensive damage” to a garage and a number of downed trees.
“We are thankful that, while many live in the direct path of the storm, they were spared,” Bronner said.
The congregation’s disaster-response group, “Hands In Service,” worked alongside Service International and U.S. Marine Corps volunteers Jan. 8, cleaning up debris and boarding up homes in tornado-damaged neighborhoods.
- Dr. Al H. Senske, who served as director of LCMS World Relief from 1987 until his retirement in 1994, and his wife, Ruth, are among a half-dozen or so member families of The Lutheran Church of Webster Gardens, Webster Groves, Mo., with storm damage.
A three-foot wooden beam — dubbed, jokingly, “a missile,” by Al — came through their kitchen ceiling, causing major damage to their roof. The winds also banged up their gutters and broke windows, and, like many in St. Louis county, the Senskes lost electricity — in their case, for nearly 24 hours.
“We feel very blessed that it wasn’t any worse than it was,” said Ruth.
In the wake of the storm, LCMS World Relief and Human Care contacted pastors in the Missouri and Mid-South Districts to check on congregations and communities and offer assistance.
The Synod’s mercy arm reaches out to congregations to help assess damages and offer financial assistance and spiritual care that members, in turn, can share with their community.
For more information — or to contribute to its disaster fund — visit its website at www.lcms.org/worldrelief.
The LCMS Department of Human Resources, housed at the International Center in St. Louis, is accepting donations from Synod employees for New Year’s Eve storm victims through Jan. 19. The funds will go to the city of Sunset Hills’ “Tornado Assistance Fund.”
Posted Jan. 6, 2011
Updated Jan. 10 and Jan. 14, 2011