Johan Torres, pastor of Iglesia Camino Nuevo in Moore, Okla., literally watched as one of the most treacherous tornadoes in history headed towards his church yesterday. One of the members of his church came to him for shelter, and his wife and three kids were on the way, but they never came. So he prayed.
Today, he is grateful that not only is Iglesia Camino Nuevo one of the only buildings still standing for miles, but the entire Hernandez family is alive and well. Since they have no food, water, electricity or gas, they are staying with him.
“I went to pick up my kids, but the alarms were going off, so I stayed there,” says Juana Hernandez, whose two younger children are students at Plaza Towers Elementary School — the second school to get hit. “The lights went off, and everything started to fall on top of us.”
She says she stayed huddled in the school hallway with her 6-year-old daughter with down syndrome, while her 8-year-old son was in another nearby building with the second graders.
“All of the children were screaming and crying,” says the 44-year-old mother in Spanish. “I started to sing to calm the children’s fears.”
What impacted her most, she says, was when a car flew inside and fell about a meter from them. A few kids got caught underneath, but they were rescued.
“We were all helping each other,” says Hernandez. “Hail fell on us for about two minutes while we were looking for more kids, and then about 10 minutes after the tornado stopped, the ambulances arrived.”
She says when they finally were able to leave the school, nothing was recognizable. Hernandez says she grabbed her two children, and her 18-year-old who also joined them, and started walking amid the rubble until they found a house where she could call her husband who had been waiting for them at the church before the tornado hit.
“My children were asking for their backpacks and my daughter only had one shoe — she wanted to return to get it,” says Hernandez. “All of my children were bleeding from the glass that fell on them.”
She says her husband and the pastor took her son to get stitches in the hospital. She still can’t believe the damage that took place in such a short time.
“It felt so long, but I think it was only 8 or 10 minutes,” says Hernandez about the tornado, which took the lives of 51 people. “I believe in God and I’m thankful for the opportunity to live.”
Although she calmed her kids nerves and explained a tornado like this shouldn’t happen again, she says her son has been saying he wants to move to Texas now, just in case. He also told her that he was praying during the entire time so that God would protect them.
For now, she says they are staying with Pastor Torres, because although their house only has some exterior damage, her truck is destroyed and they have no water, gas or electricity.
Seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary have been reported dead, and there are many injured in the hospital. Hernandez says all of the families at the church are in good condition, however.
“There are no more classes,” she says still in disbelief. “There is nothing — only rubble.”
Pastor Torres says his church looks like a big trash can was dumped on top of it, with insulation all over the place, but he is amazed it is still standing.
“We had the debris flying all over the place,” he says. “All you can see in the near blocks is trees that are tumbled down. Businesses and 7-Elevens are torn to pieces.”
He is grateful to agencies like Convoy of Hope and World Vision who are in the process of setting up a stations near their church which will provide water, food and goods that people need — including counseling and first responders.
“We will need things like that for support,” says Pastor Torres.