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Severe winds hit church with several children inside, leave it in tatters

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
June 21, 2019, 1:30:47 AM EDT


Massive hail, strong wind gusts and a couple of possible tornadoes wreaked havoc on the south-central United States Wednesday afternoon and night. The storms caused widespread damage and hazards for residents living in the impacted region.

“Several large complexes of thunderstorms moved across the South late Wednesday into Wednesday night, bringing strong, damaging wind gusts and hail across a swath from Texas to Tennessee, as well as at least one possible tornado,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist Bill Deger.

Northeastern Texas was hit particularly hard, with hail up to the size of softballs, and a suspected tornado touched down in Greenville, a town located about an hour northeast of Dallas. Extensive damage was left behind in the Greenville community after strong winds swept through, including significant damages to buildings and downed power lines and trees.

The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Fort Worth, Texas, surveyed the storm damage in Greenville and other impacted areas of Hunt County on Thursday afternoon. The survey team found that the damage in Greenville was not caused by a tornado as initially suspected, but instead by straight-line winds. These winds were likely a powerful rear-flank downdraft, with peak wind speeds of 85 mph.

(ABC News)

Powerful winds significantly damaged the Highland Terrace Baptist Church in Greenville, Texas, on Wednesday, June 19.

(ABC News)

The Highland Terrace Baptist Church was among the hardest hit buildings in Greenville after strong winds tore through the community on Wednesday.

(ABC News)

A helicopter camera captured the devastation left behind from strong winds that tore through Greenville on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ @rebeccaa_davis)

Storm damage inside the Highland Terrace Baptist Church on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ @rebeccaa_davis)

Storm damage inside the Highland Terrace Baptist Church on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ @rebeccaa_davis)

Storm damage inside the Highland Terrace Baptist Church on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ @rebeccaa_davis)

Storm damage outside the Highland Terrace Baptist Church on Wednesday.

(ABC News)

While the storm damage is widespread, fortunately, no injuries have been reported in Greenville on Wednesday.

(ABC News)

Powerful straight-line winds caused significant damage to downtown Greenville on Wednesday.

(ABC News)

Powerful straight-line winds shattered the glass of windows in downtown Greenville on Wednesday.

(Gage Shaw)

Powerful straight-line winds caused significant damage in Greenville on Wednesday. Cleanup is underway as residents begin to recover from the storm.

(Twitter photo/ @woollab)

This storm caused significant damage in Greenville on Wednesday. Debbie Minikhiem said she took shelter at an Arby’s where the employees helped them get in the door.

(Twitter photo/ @MYTQuinn1)

Extensive damage in Greenville, Texas, after strong winds swept through the community on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ @MYTQuinn1)

Extensive damage in Greenville, Texas, after strong winds swept through the community on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ @MYTQuinn1)

Extensive damage in Greenville, Texas, after strong winds swept through the community on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ @MYTQuinn1)

Extensive damage in Greenville, Texas, after strong winds swept through the community on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ @MYTQuinn1)

Extensive damage in Greenville, Texas, after strong winds swept through the community on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ @MYTQuinn1)

Extensive damage in Greenville, Texas, after strong winds swept through the community on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ Levi Newell)

Damage in Greenville, Texas, seconds after a suspected tornado moved through the community on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ Levi Newell)

Damage in Greenville, Texas, seconds after a suspected tornado moved through the community on Wednesday.

(Twitter photo/ Levi Newell)

Damage in Greenville, Texas, seconds after a suspected tornado moved through the community on Wednesday.


The Highland Terrace Baptist Church in Greenville was among buildings hit the hardest by the powerful winds, as a large portion of the church's roof was pulled from the exterior. Luckily, no one was harmed. Earlier on Wednesday, the church announced that all evening services would be canceled due to the severe weather threat.

However, some members still showed up for service. Those at the church at the time of the storm, which included several children, took cover in the stairwell, local news station FOX4 reports.

“God is good. Everyone is safe. Thank you for the prayers and offers to help,” the church wrote in a Facebook post after the storm. The post cautioned residents to stay home until Thursday when the storms were expected to pass.

While the exterior of the building took a significant hit from the storm, aerial footage showed, but the church’s pastor, Chet Haney, stressed that the people making up the church's congregation are safe. Haney said that “if you hear that our church is damaged, don’t believe it because the church is not a building, it’s the people and our people are just fine. Nobody got hurt.”

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In the days ahead, the church plans to begin cleanup operations and repairs. The church placed a tarp over the bare roof on Wednesday night to protect the structure from rain and other potential storm damage.

The pastor said shortly after the storm struck on Wednesday that the church was in “pretty good shape.”

The church is unable to be used until the building is deemed safe. However, the church officials wanted to minister to their community due to the widespread damage throughout Greenville. On Thursday morning, church officials planned to set up a free "clean-up" store on their east parking lot with tarps, trash, water bottles and other supplies.

“There’s a lot of need around town. There are people whose yards are just devastated with limbs and leaves. There are people all over this neighborhood in the same situation,” Haney said.

Northeast of the church, the more densely-populated downtown area of Greenville was struck hard by the storm. Videos after the suspected tornado show a roof of a downtown business ripped off and crumpled down the street, glass windows blown out in some buildings and several traffic lights fluttering. Power lines and trees are also toppled over.

NWS issued an array of severe weather watches and warnings into Wednesday night, including flash flood, severe thunderstorms, tornado and hail.

In the city of Sulphur Springs, Texas, swift water rescues were performed as numerous roads were reported closed due to high water.

Meanwhile, in southern Arkansas, similar storms were producing extreme weather, including wind gusts up to 70 mph, Deger said. The strong winds downed trees and power lines in the region. The storms left over 100,000 people without power on Wednesday night, according to poweroutage.us. Massive hailstones were also reported in Vandervoort, Arkansas, on Wednesday night.


A possible tornado touched down in southeastern Oklahoma and crossed into southwestern Arkansas near Horatio and Winthrop, Arkansas.

Strong winds of 50 to 60 mph were reported in areas near Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday night. There were reports of quarter- to half-dollar-sized hail in the Brentwood, Tennessee, area.

Rounds of severe weather will continue to target portions of the central U.S. through the weekend.

"Later Saturday, severe storms will again be possible from the Texas Panhandle to Iowa, then into storm-ravaged parts of northeastern Texas by Sunday or Monday," Deger said.

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