By Stan Friedman
MINNEAPOLIS, MN (May 23, 2011) – Jeremy Scheller was hosting a birthday party for his son when a tornado ripped through his community in north Minneapolis.
“We were playing games and then the power went off and then the sirens started,” says Scheller, director of communications, technology, and media for Sanctuary Covenant Church. The adults rushed the children to the basement where they all listened as the twister passed.
“It moved fast,” Scheller says. “It was over in about 30 seconds.”
In that brief period, however, it killed one person and injured at least 30 others. The twister also smashed houses, uprooted large trees, and destroyed vehicles.
Trees fell on the home of Sanctuary’s associate pastor Cecilia Williams, causing the roof to collapse. No one was injured, but the family was one of many who have had to find shelter elsewhere.
A lot of the congregation’s members live in the area. “We’re all calling each other to check to see if they’re okay,” Scheller says.
The twister tore off parts of the church office roof – inside areas sustained water damage, Scheller says. Vandals broke into the church, but apparently did not take anything of value because members had secured the computers and other equipment shortly after the storm. The church plans to set up its offices temporarily in another local Covenant church, Scheller says.
Associate Pastor Kevin Farmer, a former emergency medical technician, tried in vain to safe the life of the one resident who was killed. The 59-year-old man died in his car when a large part of a tree went through his front windshield and struck him.
The church and its nonprofit organization, Sanctuary Community Development Corporation, have opened a disaster response staging area in cooperation with the city and another nonprofit group. Other Covenant churches in the area also have begun to offer assistance to local residents.
The tornado was one of three that struck the area. It tore through a five-mile path from suburban St. Louis Park, where it hit a condominium complex and two businesses, and continued through north Minneapolis, according to press reports.
“Many residents were walking around their shattered neighborhood in a daze, astonished at the devastation,” said a report in the Bemidji Pioneer.