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'It looked like a bomb had went off in here': Milam County church finally rebuilt after 2019 tornado

"It looked like a bomb had went off in here": Milam County church finally rebuilt after 2019 tornado
Posted at 5:43 PM, Jan 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-12 18:43:06-05

SAN GABRIEL, Texas — When Pastor Billy Bob Cox walked through the doors of the San Gabriel Christian Church in San Gabriel in April 2019, he was devastated.

"We got a phone call probably about four o'clock in the morning from one of the members that lives across the road here and saying that a tornado had come through," Cox said.

"They didn't think there had been that much damage, so we weren't too worried about it. About 7:30, they called and said 'Yeah, it took the roof off'."

Now, the nearly 100-year-old church is back in service after being rebuilt.

A EF-0 tornado ripped through Milam County on April 6, 2019 with winds up to 85 miles per hour.

According to Chief Meteorologist Matt Hines, these winds can be destructive to even the strongest buildings, but older buildings like the church are at greater risk.

"Since its such an old church even 85 mph winds can do quite a bit of damage to an older structure," Hines said.

The storm knocked pieces of the roof onto the floors and pews, broke windows and wedged the church's historical marker into the side of the building.

"It looked like a bomb had went off in here. The roof was gone. There was roofing material all over the floor. All the pews were covered with debris," he said.

Cox says he had temporary tarps put on the roof, but they failed, leading to even more damage during rains following the natural disaster.

"The classroom over here literally looked like a swimming pool," he said.

"Everything in here needed to be done, the floors had to be done, the pews had to be done."

Today, the church looks different.

Cox says the church salvaged old wood panels found after ripping up its carpeting and trim.

Now, the church is wooden from floor to ceiling, the windows are replaced and the pews are cleared, costing the church about $400,000.

He says he's thankful.

"It was an amazing thing. What He [God] let us discover here was far more than what we could've imagined," Cox said.

If another tornado forms, Cox says they'll just rebuild.

"We've been here for almost a 100 years, and we have no intentions of not being here, so this building is where the church meets," he said.

"It's not the church but it is an important part of who we are.