RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Many residents across the South and Midwest found their homes leveled yesterday after a series of deadly tornadoes and thunderstorms rolled across the region. The storm system stretched from the Gulf Coast all the way to the Great Lakes and followed an outbreak of tornadoes just two days earlier in roughly the same area. Dozens of people have been killed and many small towns were left unrecognizable as the storms razed buildings across the middle part of the country. Some of the hardest hit were in small rural towns. In southern Indiana, much of the small town of Henryville was demolished. Chris Gilbert, whose parents' home was badly battered reflected on the damage to the town's long history.
CHRIS GILBERT: We've got a couple houses that have been here for a hundred-and-something years. We've got some old pictures in there of horse-drawn carriages going up and down these streets. And some of those houses made it 'cause of the construction back in those days, but some of the others, you know, it's almost a total loss.
MARTIN: Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels surveyed the damaged yesterday and he pledged his assistance.
GOVERNOR MITCH DANIELS: Now, we just say to those families that we're going to do everything we can to get you back on your feet and business, in your homes and, you know, bear with us.
MARTIN: Small communities in south central Kentucky are also cleaning up. Yesterday, we spoke with B.J. Donahue. He's pastor at Piner Baptist Church in Piner, Kentucky, and he described what his town looks like now.
B.J. DONAHUE: We are looking at just an unbelievable wreck across the countryside. We've got hills and valleys in our area, and you just see all the debris just flooding down the hills. You got barns that are no longer there. You got houses that are absolutely removed. As I drove out, it looked like everything was normal and then at some point just south of our church, everything turns totally different. Trees are down and broken, and everything's just twisted and mangled. And then it's basically a war zone.
MARTIN: So, your church is still standing.
DONAHUE: We did not get touched at all. By the grace of God, He has given us this location so we'd been able to use everything. The local electric companies were able to get us back up with electric, so we have heat. We're receiving people, we're receiving volunteers, donations and all those kinds of things, and we're able to do that with (unintelligible). So, we are very fortunate.
MARTIN: So, what do you do as a minister, as a member of this community? What's your role in this? What have you been doing?
DONAHUE: Well, it is to do whatever we can. To be honest, this is not a one-man team. This is not a one-organization team. We have got people spearheading all different areas right now. We've got donations. We've got people taking care of displaced people. We've got people preparing food. But we have had just an unbelievable outpouring of community love and support.
MARTIN: I imagine you've been talking with your own congregation, people in the community. How are people coping?
DONAHUE: You know, I think a lot of this is just shock. We've never seen anything like this. And as they are just coming to grips with it, you'll see people who just come in wondering what do I do next, because they'll have a home that is absolutely gone and they had no insurance on it. So, my hope and my experience as we just minister to them is you're here and things can be replaced. And we're going to be here and your community is going to be here and we're ready to help you and get back on your feet. But it's going to be a one day at a time. This is not a couple of days and we're back. You see so many things on the news like this, and at the end of the day you forget about it a week out. So, this is going to be an opportunity for our community to really rally around our people and love them and continue just to minister to them.
MARTIN: This will be a profoundly different kind of Sunday. How do you minister to people on this day?
DONAHUE: We don't have a service. We have totally shifted gears. And so there are no regular services. This is around the clock. And so we - our church has turned into a totally different thing at this point. We are a command post and we are going to continue to serve this community. And so for many days to come, we have the opportunity to lift Christ in this community.
MARTIN: Pastor B.J. Donahue of Piner Baptist Church. He spoke to us from his community, Piner, Kentucky. Pastor Donahue, thanks so much for taking time.
DONAHUE: Thank you very much for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.