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Hackleburg pastor home from hospital after tornado-related injuriescomment (0)

May 26, 2011

By Neisha Fuson

Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” — the young girl’s voice was clear and crisp as it echoed through the rubble. “Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.”

Four-year-old Callie Myrick was obviously alive. But what about the others?

Callie’s great-grandfather, Gene Thomas, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Hackleburg, began to take roll.

“Dana, are you here?”

“I’m here, Dad.”

“Sue, are you OK?” Thomas asked his wife.

“I’m OK.”

The roll continued in the dark basement until all nine family members were accounted for.

Thomas and his wife Sue, who recently celebrated 50 years of marriage, planted Emmanuel Baptist (part of Marion Baptist Association) in 1991 and were present when the “first nails were driven in.”

They also happened to be there when all the nails were blown out of the building.

The Thomases, their daughter, three grandchildren with two of their husbands and Callie gathered at the church to ride out the April 27 tornado that leveled almost the entire town of Hackleburg.

After settling into the basement around 3 p.m., it was only 15 minutes later that Callie took her grandmother’s advice to “just sing” when the 210-mile-per-hour-plus winds blew the church building above them away.

“Everyone said it sounded like a train,” Thomas said. “I didn’t hear it, but all at once I could feel the pressure and then suddenly there was nothing above us.”

Despite the harrowing circumstances the group stayed calm. In fact, Thomas said there was “an enormous, quiet peace” while the storm was raging.

“We were all so calm at that time (when the tornado hit); no one was hollering or screaming. It felt so peaceful sitting there,” he said. “I can truly say that God’s hand was upon us without any reservation at all.”

Everyone was trapped under bricks, cement and two-by-fours, except Thomas and his wife, but they ended up being the only two to sustain severe injuries.

Sue Thomas suffered respiratory issues and a smashed index finger she received from protecting her husband’s head. Gene Thomas has a pressure fracture in his back caused from pushing the pile of bricks off his wife. Their injuries resulted from protecting each other. No one else was injured.

A truck driver heard the family’s screams for help and worked with a neighbor to rescue them. The truck driver was near the church looking for his semitrailer truck, which had been tossed around in the storm, when he heard the screams. He had abandoned the truck for a ditch during the storm, and the truck ended up landing close to the church.

The Thomases spent a week in Lakeland Community Hospital, Haleyville, before being released — Sue to return home and Gene to be transferred to Huntsville Hospital for back surgery. He was released to return home a week later.

At press time, the Thomases were both expected to fully recover. Their home was not damaged during the storm.

Mark Gallups, director of missions for Marion Association, said within a couple of days he and Thomas began planning what to do next.

The front steps were all that remained at Emmanuel Baptist, but the two men agreed — “We’re going to rebuild.”

“When you see the devastation in times like these, you just hold on to what you know is true and that’s the Lord,” Gallups said. “And trust Him to help the community and help [each person] to help the community and do the best we can.”

Thomas agreed.

“After you go through something like this [you are reminded], it is only God who you can trust in anyway,” he said. “My prayer is that this (disaster) will soften hearts (in Hackleburg), and [Emmanuel Baptist] will be able to touch lives of our community more so than we ever have before.”

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