, news editor, Adventist Review
A principal who narrowly escaped injury when a tornado leveled her Seventh-day Adventist elementary school in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania last week said God had protected her and was providing volunteers to help the school open for classes in five weeks.
Principal Rachel Wardecke was the only person in the Blue Mountain Seventh-day Adventist Elementary School in the town of Hamburg when the tornado struck with winds of at least 105 miles per hour (170 kilometers per hour) at 6:45 p.m. on July 9.
Wardecke, who was taking a last check of the 46-year-old brick building before heading out of town for a vacation, said she heard the sound of hail and glass breaking, a loud wind, and moments later found herself on the ground, looking up at the open sky where the ceiling had once been.
“All of a sudden the wind blew and stuff was flying at me and I was on the ground,” Wardecke, who was shaken but not injured, said in an interview with local WNEP television.
The tornado left the school looking “like it had been opened with a giant can opener,” according to the Reading Eagle newspaper. Photos of the school showed the roof torn off, the gym destroyed, and the classrooms in tatters. The school, which has 35 students, had received new carpets and a fresh coat of paint the day before the disaster.
Other buildings in the community sustained little or no damage.
Volunteers are working this week to salvage what they can from the school building and move the items across the street to Blue Mountain Academy, which was not damaged in the storm.
“God gave me protection when it happened, and God has provided me the helpers going forward from it,” Wardecke told WFMZ television.
The school had been scheduled to open on Aug. 18, but classes, which will be transplanted to three rooms at the academy, may now be delayed by a week, she said.
The old school building will have to be demolished.
The school, which was insured by its owner, the Adventist Church’s Pennsylvania Conference, has seen an outpouring of support from the local community, with local businesses and even strangers donating money and supplies.
Pennsylvania Conference leaders expressed gratitude for God’s protection and for the prayers of people around the world.
“The Pennsylvania Conference would like to thank those around the world who are praying for our school, its staff, students, and alumni who are grieving the loss of a beloved school and invite to you continue to pray with us for Rachel and her team as they sift through the damage and make plans for the coming school year,” it said in a statement.
The school has opened a special fund marked “BMA Tornado Support” on its website. Donations will go to worthy students at this school.