IMAGE: CROSSES SCATTERED AMONG CHURCH RUINS
Matt Sowers  /  AP
Wooden crosses are scattered among the remains of the Lady Lake Church of God in Lady Lake, Fla., Friday.
updated 2/2/2007 5:53:49 PM ET 2007-02-02T22:53:49

Parishioners walked over the splintered remains of the Lady Lake Church of God on Friday, rescuing torn Bibles from the jumble of broken pews, altar and glass left behind by a tornado.

Someone had pulled a framed religious poem nearly unscathed from the rubble. Its title: “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.”

The reinforced building had been considered an emergency shelter before the storm early Friday turned it into a twisted mess of wood and metal. Pieces of aluminum roof hung from oak branches and clanked in the wind.

Across a 30-mile swath, the twister and thunderstorms killed at least 19 people and laid waste to hundreds of homes.

People pulled the bodies of their neighbors from under the rubble in the rural central Florida area northwest of Orlando.

“Hell opened up and half the demons came out,” said Russell Timmons, of Lady Lake.

Pastor Larry Lynn, 58, said the building was supposed to be able to withstand 150-mile winds. He stared at the remains of his Pentecostal church and attempted to console parishioners.

“It’s a total loss,” Lynn said, “but there are a lot of people in the area who are in a lot worse shape than we are.”

When told parishioners had found his mother’s Bibles, Lynn choked back tears.

“We’ll move forward,” he said quietly.

Lynn said despite the storm’s damage, he was determined to hold services Sunday — even if it meant holding them in a muddy patch of grass near the church ruins.

“We’re going to be fine. We’ll pull it together.”

Slideshow: Storm aftermath Mike Barfield, 41, lost the roof of his trailer home, which sits about 100 feet from the church. As he huddled with his wife and their baby granddaughter in the dark, he looked out the window and saw the building explode.

“I don’t know if it was transformers blowing up or what, but it was a green-colored glow right over the top of the church,” Barfield recalled.

The explosion lasted a few seconds.

“Then it was just nice and peaceful and quiet, no birds, nothing, just total silence,” he said.

In the Lake Mack section of Paisley, Bernadette Fields, 67, said her house sustained little damage, but friends told her the force of the tornado blew two of her neighbors out the bedroom wall of their mobile homes and into the lake where they died. The couple’s dog found them, she said.

“The wind picked me up four times and put me back down,” said Nellie Byrd, who huddled with her husband as the storm shook their home.

A lone baby doll lay in the street, clothes hung from downed trees and telephone poles jutted at 45-degree angles. Mobile homes had crumpled in on themselves, creating massive garbage heaps. A pickup truck lay upside down in a field.

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