Tornado rips apart church, spares parishioners praying in hallway

Parishioners dropped to the floor and fought the wind to seal the doors to their hallway refuge as a tornado ripped apart their church Saturday night.

About 45 people — including toddlers and students — were at the parish hall of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Emory, a town outside of Dallas, Texas, when they received warning that a tornado was approaching.

They decided to take refuge in a hallway between the parish hall and the main part of the church.

“About 30 seconds after we went into the hallway, it hit,” said Monica Hughes, a youth minister who was among those gathered at the hall to honor high school graduates.

Hughes told CNN that she and her husband held on tight to double doors to keep them shut. Through a small set of windows on the doors they could see the tornado ripping apart their worship space.

“We could see the beams bending and the aluminum roof being ripped away,” she said.

“Everybody dropped to the floor and protected one another. As soon as the worst was over, we began to sing to keep the kids calm.”

Throughout the chaos, they prayed, Hughes said.

“Everyone was perfectly calm and felt like it was going to be OK,” said Hughes, who added they monitored the storm and stayed in place for nearly two hours before EMS arrived.

They were then moved away because of downed power lines and a gas leak.

Using the term ‘miraculous’

Peyton Low, director of public affairs for the Diocese of Tyler, said the tornado was a direct hit.

“Both ends of the building were blown out,” Low said. He said “people are using the term ‘miraculous'” to describe what happened Saturday night — the same night that at least three tornadoes killed four people in east Texas.

The Diocese of Tyler shared videos and photos of the devastating scene at the church Sunday morning. “By the grace of God and the protection of Our Lady, no one was injured,” the diocese wrote on Facebook.

On Sunday morning, St. John the Evangelist parishioners held Mass outside the church.

“They gave thanks that the people inside survived,” Low said.