Looking back on damage to Collista Freewill Baptist Church

Published: Mar. 2, 2017 at 4:01 PM EST
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In Johnson County, the tornado carved a path through homes and churches leaving behind a trail of destruction.

Within minutes the EF-3 tornado left its mark on Johnson County.

"Everything was lit up, I mean it was one 911 call after the other," Gary McClure, Paintsville/Johnson County Emergency Management Director, said.

Cars were flipped to their tops and homes left in pieces.

It was a lucid memory for Toby Johnson.

"The wind, I heard the tornado come by my home," Johnson, who the is the pastor at Collista Freewill Baptist Church, said.

The tornado spared Johnson's home, but not his church.

"And when I came up to the church it was laying in the middle of the road out there," Johnson said.

The Collista Freewill Baptist Church where Johnson's served as a pastor for 20 years seemed a total loss.

"We'd never had a tornado and I wouldn't have believed that it could have done that much damage," Johnson said.

While searching through the rubble they found something that gave them hope.

The church pews, which had been moved to the basement for work on the roof, sat unharmed.

"It's just a tremendous thing God has done for us, I mean, that I couldn't explain," Johnson said.

Help poured in, donations from as far as Flordia, and by December they rebuilt the church.

The pews were put in their new home, even the podium pulled from the debris sits in the front as a reminder of resilience.

Emergency officials said the Collista, Hagerhill, and Denver areas were severely damaged.

Many homes and businesses have since been rebuilt.