Church destroyed in 1998 tornado, stronger than ever 20 years later

Church destroyed in 1998 tornado, stronger than ever 20 years later
Open Door Church was destroyed after an F-5 tornado ripped through Oak Grove (Source: WBRC)
Pastor Rick Cooper (Source: WBRC)
Pastor Rick Cooper (Source: WBRC)
Linda Myers (Source: WBRC)
Linda Myers (Source: WBRC)

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - An Alabama church family is calling themselves living miracles.

Twenty years ago, an F-5 tornado tore through Oak Grove, killing 32 people. Open Door Church was destroyed in the tornado, but now members say it is stronger than ever.

Today, the church held an event to remember the tornado. But it wasn't about the devastation, it was all about celebrating the miracle that they're alive.

Dozens of the 71 people inside Open Door Church on April 8, 1998 stood Sunday, exactly 20 years after they witnessed an F-5 tornado rip apart their church.

"We had been there probably about four or five minutes, just got downstairs, sat down and heard the men come in and say, 'It's here!' And by the time they came through the door, it hit," said Pastor Rick Cooper.

He said it lasted about 30 seconds, but felt like an eternity.

"We heard the roar," he said. "The roar was deafening. It was like being in a jet engine."

The roof was torn off. Cars were thrown from the parking lot into a ditch. Debris was everywhere.

But inside Open Door Church, everyone was alive.

"I remember crawling out the window and I looked back at the building and it was devastated," said Pastor Cooper. "I said, 'Lord, this is a miracle.' And I heard the Lord say, 'It's only starting a miracle.' And it was for us. And it has been for 20 years. It's been a powerful ride all the way, that we have learned how to really enjoy life."

And on this Sunday, as generations of families sat underneath the new Open Door Church roof, they remember the power of faith that got them through this storm, and the other storms in life.

"We know that God's with us," said church member Linda Myers. "With us during the storm, in the storm, and out of the storm, before the storm.  He is with us all the time. So, He's there. He will see you through it."

That 1998 tornado ripped through parts of Tuscaloosa, Jefferson and St. Clair Counties.

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