VAN, Texas—First Baptist Church of Van Pastor Tom Campbell knew a tornado warning had been issued but learned that his town had been hit by an EF-3 tornado Sunday night, May 10, via calls and text messages from Dallas friends. He would soon discover that a neighborhood that was home to five FBC families had been devastated.
Youth minister Kenneth Meadows was driving to FBC in response to a call from the alarm company when he learned of the devastation and phoned Campbell, who started for the church immediately from his home five miles east of town. Campbell’s progress was stalled by a traffic jam on Interstate 20 caused by an 18-wheeler overturned by the tornado.
“It was raining and pitch black, with the electricity out. Trees were down everywhere. By the time I got to the church, the east side of the parking lot was filled with emergency vehicles and hundreds seeking shelter. It had been turned into a triage area,” Campbell said. A deacon had opened the church for use by local first responders.
“We contacted the Red Cross to offer our church facilities,” said Campbell, whose experience as a pastor during Hurricane Rita confirmed the importance of emergency management help.
“We had no formal agreement with the Red Cross, but we do now,” Campbell said. “Our facilities are among the best places for people to go. We have a nice-sized gym and kitchen.” Some 50 cots have been set up at FBC Van. The church is also housing SBTC DR volunteers.
“The storm came so quickly that people barely had time to react, to get into a coat closet or wherever,” Campbell said.
Two FBC Van families whose homes were destroyed lived across from each other on Washington St. Their survival is nothing short of miraculous as all came through the tornado uninjured.
Only a single interior wall remained of the home of FBC Van’s Robby and Amy Parish and their two elementary aged-children. The family huddled in an interior closet, opening the door after the tornado passed to find their home gone.
Robby Parish, a Van ISD coach, outside observing the devastation of his own home, heard shouts from across the street. Parish and neighbors ran to assist Ken and Donna Strom, a retired couple from FBC Van trapped in their home by debris. Only one interior wall of the Strom home remained. They, too, had sought refuge in an interior closet.
“Both families picked the only spot they could have picked and remained safe,” Campbell said.
Somehow, neighbors managed to find Amy Parish’s wedding ring set amidst the rubble.
“It is a miracle that we don’t have more fatalities,” Campbell said, noting that one-third of Van was affected and current estimates place damages in the $40 million range.
Campbell praised the close-knit Van community and the Red Cross, SBTC DR and other volunteers for the “outpouring” of help. “People, food, clothing, bottled water, the response has been tremendous.”