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Parishioners are salvaging what they can from their 100-year-old church after tornado

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

People in the small farming community of Rolling Fork, Miss., are mourning and cleaning up following the devastating storms and tornado that killed at least 26 people in the region on Friday night. Maya Miller from the Gulf States Newsroom visited with parishioners of a nearly 100-year-old church that collapsed as they looked for things to salvage from the wreckage.

MAYA MILLER, BYLINE: As you drive into Rolling Fork, you'll notice most of the trees here lean northward after a tornado battered the area, ripping homes apart and sending pickup trucks hurtling through the air. There are bricks from people's homes scattered across town.

GREG PROCTOR: As you see in Rolling Fork, there's hardly a tree left standing.

MILLER: Father Greg Proctor is an Episcopal priest at Chapel of the Cross Church in Rolling Fork. Chapel of the Cross was one year shy of celebrating 100 years in this red brick building. But now, more than half of the church has been destroyed.

PROCTOR: There was a bell tower that went three stories up in the air, with big cast iron or brass bell. It's in the wreckage. We hope to be able to save it.

MILLER: The bell tower collapsed onto the pews, barely missing the altar.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT WHIRRING)

MILLER: On Sunday, instead of having services, nearly a dozen men sort through the wreckage, salvaging silver and panels of stained glass. Some are members of his congregation, but others, Proctor says, are from out of town.

PROCTOR: They just showed up with plywood and some hands.

MILLER: Proctor has a small congregation, and his parishioners have questions. But for now, they want to be useful, for which he's grateful.

PROCTOR: Commandment to love God and love your neighbor have been shown these last two days as people have come together to help.

MILLER: One person who's here to help is William Moore, a lifelong member of Chapel of the Cross. He's attended for more than 60 years.

WILLIAM MOORE: I'm devastated. It's a small congregation, and I've been the treasurer for 40 years. So it's my life.

MILLER: As he looks at the damage, he takes a deep breath and struggles to keep talking.

MOORE: It was probably the prettiest church in the county, and it's gone. So, yeah, it's sad.

MILLER: To deal with the loss, Moore's instinct is to be here to help. And he's not the only one. There are utility trucks, construction equipment and emergency vehicles all over town trying to piece Rolling Fork back together. And Moore says he's here for the long haul, too.

You've been here helping out and navigating all of this.

MOORE: Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, as long as it takes. This is my church.

MILLER: For now, Father Proctor says they're coming up with a plan to get Sunday services going again.

PROCTOR: Well, we may not be in this building anymore. It's hard to say for sure. But we will have our worship space, and we will gather to praise God's grace.

MILLER: He hopes next Sunday will be that day. For NPR News, I'm Maya Miller in Rolling Fork, Miss.

SUMMERS: The Gulf States Newsroom is a partnership among public radio stations in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETER SANDBERG'S "A QUIET PLACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Maya Miller