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'We’re gonna start over': Two churches flattened by EF-3 tornado in Salado

The Cedar Valley Baptist Church and Victory Baptist Church along FM-2843 were reduced to piles of debris.

SALADO, Texas — The small community of Cedar Valley in Salado, TX was left unrecognizable for miles after an EF-3 tornado swept through it Tuesday evening.

The twister ripped through trees, injured more than 23 people, and tore apart family homes in a matter of seconds.

Wednesday, the National Weather Service announced that the tornado had a preliminary rating of an EF-3 with maximum wind speeds of 165 mph. The tornado’s track was 13 miles long, and it lasted half an hour.

Two churches in Salado were flattened by the twister. The Cedar Valley Baptist Church and Victory Baptist Church along FM-2843 were reduced to piles of debris.

Donnie Jackson, the pastor of First Cedar Valley Baptist Church, shed tears as he surveyed the damage to his church.

“That was the toughest moment for me,” said Jackson.

According to Jackson, no one was in the church at the time of the tornado. Jackson sheltered from the storm at a closet in his home, surrounded by family members. 

“We just prayed the whole time,” Jackson said. “We could hear it, it sounded awful.”

Jackson’s family has been a part of the church since he was a child. Although it wasn’t always the same building, he described it as a special place because of how much it meant to his late

“Sometimes you wanna [sic] question why things like this happen, and then one of the scriptures came to my mind that says: ‘We know that all things work together for good to those that love God and are called to his purpose,’” Jackson said. “I have no idea what God’s purpose is in allowing this to happen, but I know he has one.”

Through the damage, a remarkable thing happened: the large cross hanging in the church didn’t falter. While the roof above it collapsed and debris surrounded it, the wooden cross still stood high above the brokenness.

“It’s still anchored and undamaged. What does that tell you?” said Jackson.

RELATED: Blackburn: No deaths a 'minor miracle,' despite 'extensive' damage caused by Salado tornado

The people who live in the Cedar Valley community lost so much. At least 61 homes were destroyed, but on Wednesday, people from all over Texas showed up to help with recovery efforts. 

“We’re gonna [sic] start over. We’re gonna keep right on going,” said Jackson.

The members of his church vowed to rebuild. 

“This is just a building. Our church is gonna continue right on,” said Jackson.

Easter is this Sunday, and Jackson plans to have the service outside of the damaged church. Jackson told WFAA that pastors from all over Central Texas will attend.

“If we don’t have nothing but a tent out here for awhile, that’ll be okay,” said Jackson.

Their faith will overcome what tore through the tight-knit community.

Bell County officials announced a phone line set up to help for those looking to help with recovery efforts. 

If you’d like to help those who were impacted by the tornado, you can call 254-534-2217 to make donations.

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