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One Year Anniversary of North Carolina Tornado

April 16, 2011 began as a nice April Saturday in Sanford, NC. Signs of Spring were everywhere and people were busy with yard work, shopping, and all the usual Saturday activities. The weather forecast included "a risk of severe weather" which later included a "tornado watch." It's not all that unusual in the Spring for "tornado watches" to be issued, and most residents didn't pay all that much attention. There had been some small pockets of damage in years past, but nothing widespread. After all, this was central North Carolina, not "Tornado Alley." This day was going to be different. The "watch" turned into a "warning" and the TV channels were taken over by the weather forecasters repeating urgent warning of tornados in the area, and urging people to seek shelter. It still seems so surreal that in a matter of minutes so many lives were changed that day. In the aftermath of the storm were two fatalities, multitudes of destroyed or damaged homes and businesses, and an enormous emotional strain on the residents of Sanford and Lee County, NC.

The Shallow Well Church community took a major hit. The church itself sustained damage in varying degrees to all eight structures on our property, and our church bus was a total loss. We were blessed that neither our Associate Pastor and his family who were residing in our church parsonage which was severely damaged, nor our custodian who was working in the main church building were injured. A young man who was in his mobile home about a half mile from the church was not so fortunate and died from his injuries. A few others were injured. Eight families of Shallow Well Church suffered major damage, including two homes completely destroyed, and the others suffering major damage. Worship Services and other activities were cancelled on Sunday as our property became a staging area for power companies and clean-up crews.

Amidst all the uncertainty surrounding Shallow Well Church, we were about to find out how blessed we were. The Insurance Board responded to our claim almost immediately. On Monday morning Joe Boyd arrived to personally survey the damage and expedite our repairs. Buildings were protected from further damage, and the clean up began. We were reassured that our loss would be taken care.

This assurance allowed us, as a church, to concentrate on ministering to our community. Though part of our Fellowship Hall roof was missing, we used the building to set up a food, clothes, and essential items distribution point where families who had suffered loss could come and receive assistance. The community pitched in, and our building soon filled with all kinds of food, bottled water, clothes, toletries, and even toys for children who had lost everything. We were also blessed by monetary donations from individuals, churches, our Southern Conference, and even the National UCC. We decided that since we were so blessed, we would use these donations, plus money we added, to help families in this time of need. It was a great time of sharing Christ's love with those who were hurting.

We at Shallow Well Church will be forever thankful for the quick response, personal attention, and caring shown by the Insurance Board. We did not realize what an important decision it was several years ago when we decided to insure with the Insurance Board. But we found out that our current policy offers coverage that most other church insurers don't. We had 90 plus cemetery grave markers turned over by the storm. We worried who would take responsibility for setting them back up, the church or the families of those buried in our cemetery? We were pleasantly surprised when Joe Boyd said, "they're covered under your policy."

It has been a year since that April day that changed our community. There are still signs of the devastation as some homes and businesses still sit in disrepair. We still get an uneasy feeling when the sky turns dark, and we pay close attention when tornado watches are issued. Children are still frightened when the wind blows and thunder and lightning is around. At Shallow Well all our repairs have been completed, except for a picnic shelter and storage building that we are working on.

Again, our thanks to the Insurance Board, to Joe Boyd for his personal attention, to our agent Ann Kwasnick for her ongoing assistance; you were there in our time of need. To borrow a phrase from a well known insurance company's advertisement, we were in "good hands" with the Insurance Board; and we will be forever grateful.

Donald R. Thompson, Senior Pastor
Shallow Well United Church of Christ