Tornado slams Dunn church, misses child's birthday party

Posted April 21, 2011 5:37 p.m. EDT
Updated April 21, 2011 6:45 p.m. EDT

— A church damaged in by one of Saturday's tornadoes had hosted a birthday party for a Dunn girl shortly before the storm hit.

More than 50 people helped Rilyn Kerley celebrate her first birthday at Sansom Community Church, at 2896 Arrowhead Road, off U.S. Highway 301 south of Dunn.

After the party ended, about 15 people stayed behind to clean up, and their cellphones started ringing with warnings of the approaching storm.

"My son-in-law saw the storm coming across the railroad track and saw the debris flying," Susie Hodges said.

The group, which included three children, huddled in a church hallway for safety.

"We just grabbed on to each other and just held on and started praying and crying," Paulette Kennison said. "It hit the church, and I mean it shook it, and we heard the roof ripping off and all the glass."

They all escaped injury and walked out of the church to find the hallway was the only part of the church that wasn't damaged.

"(It was) the most terrifying thing I've ever been through," Kennison said. "It was, like, just unreal."

The tornado damaged a neighboring Food Lion distribution warehouse as well as nearby homes.

"We're just very blessed people to come that close to being taken away from our families (and walking away unharmed)," Hodges said.

Church members said they plan to rebuild and are committed to helping the Dunn community recover from the storm. Some of them planned to deliver Easter baskets to storm victims on Thursday night.

"What happened to us is nothing compared to what happened to our surrounding community. So, we are very grateful. We've been very thankful that God has spared us," Kennison said.