Pastor of Tornado-Damaged Nashville Church Looks to Recovery

Several tornadoes touched down in Tennessee early Tuesday morning, killing at least 24 people and destroying more than 140 buildings

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The tornado that toppled the bell tower at East End United Methodist Church in Nashville about 1 a.m. Tuesday also caused a gas leak at the parsonage next door, forcing the Rev. Judi Hoffman to evacuate to a hotel.

Lying awake in the strange bed, thinking about the damage to her beautiful historic church, Hoffman recalled that just two Sundays ago the congregation held a "Celebrate Recovery" service for people recovering from addiction.

"We will recover," she said. "I have no doubt we will come back."

The pastor is already planning the next steps. Sunday's service will take place in a park next to what remains of the 113-year-old building, she said. Along with the bell tower, the tornado destroyed a large, recently refurbished stained glass window depicting Jesus as the good shepherd and left the building uninhabitable.

Returning to the churchyard Tuesday morning, Hoffman said she was inspired to see people she didn't even know helping clear debris.

"They are rallying around us," she said. "It's unbelievable."

The church has sheltered neighbors during previous disasters, including a 1998 tornado that came through the same neighborhood, sparing East End but flattening another historic church nearby, St. Ann's Episcopal.

"I actually went and picked up bricks at St. Ann's back in the day," Hoffman said.

Neighbor Paula Wade lives across the street from East End and was a member of St. Ann's in 1998.

Photos: Tornadoes Leave Behind Trails of Devastation in Nashville

"It was so long ago, but the sound of the sirens, and then that low sound — there's just nothing like it," Wade said. "Then to look out and see the church, it was just heartbreaking. It brings back everything that happened at St. Ann's."

Rescuers searched through shattered Tennessee neighborhoods for bodies Tuesday, less than a day after tornadoes ripped across Nashville and other parts of the state as families slept. At least 24 people were killed, some in their beds, authorities said.

The twisters that struck in the hours after midnight shredded more than 140 buildings and buried people in piles of rubble and wrecked basements. The storms moved so quickly that many people in their path could not flee to safer areas.

The governor declared an emergency and sent the National Guard to help with search-and-rescue efforts. State emergency officials, who initially reported at least 25 dead, revised the toll to 24 fatalities on Tuesday evening after determining one death counted earlier was not storm-related.

An unspecified number of people are missing.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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