About 45 people who were attending a graduation service in St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Emory, Texas were miraculously spared when a tornado hit the building just 30 seconds after they took shelter in a hallway.
The Diocese of Tyler is reporting on the near-disaster that occurred on Saturday night when four tornadoes stormed through East Texas on Saturday night, killing five and injuring at least 45. Dozens of homes and other structures were either damaged or destroyed.
One of those buildings was St. John the Evangelist Church where about 45 people, including toddlers and students were at the parish hall celebrating high school graduates when they received warning that a tornado was approaching. The group rushed into a hallway between the parish hall and the church and hit the floor.
"About 30 seconds after we went into the hallway, it hit," said youth minister, Monica Hughes, who was in the building at the time.
Hughes told CNN that she and her husband held on tight to double doors to keep them shut while watching the storm tear apart the church through a small set of windows in the doors.
"We could see the beams bending and the aluminum roof being ripped away," she said. "Everybody dropped to the floor and protected one another. As soon as the worst was over, we began to sing to keep the kids calm."
The group remained in place for almost two hours before help arrived and hurried them out of the building due to downed power lines and a gas leak.
Peyton Low, director of public affairs for the Diocese of Tyler, told CNN the tornado was a direct hit.
"Both ends of the building were blown out," Low said. He said "people are using the term 'miraculous'" to describe what happened at St. John’s.
The group was huddled just 10 feet away from the church during the strike and yet not a single injury was reported.
On Sunday morning, parishioners at this small parish of just 150 families gathered “in prayer and gratitude” on the lawn outside their demolished church where they celebrated Mass and thanked God for the great miracle that happened in their midst and for the souls of those who were lost in the storms.