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Polk County church, families work to clean up one week after powerful tornado

Posted at 11:49 PM, Oct 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-27 11:22:33-04

LAKELAND, Fla. — Residents in Polk County are continuing to clean-up one week after a powerful and rare tornado tore through the area.

The EF-2 tornado damaged at least 50 structures when it went through the Kathleen area in Lakeland. Among those affected is the Mount Tabor Baptist Church.

“It was just tough,” said Pastor Matt Gilmore.

The church suffered damage to several buildings, including the youth center and ministry center. Volunteers were out at the church on Saturday working to demo the youth center.

Gilmore says the church is facing another hurdle in its recovery after the storm destroyed its ministry center, which helped feed dozens of families. He said he met with county officials Friday.

RELATED: EF-2 tornado destroys church building in Polk County used to feed families in need

“They were encouraging in many ways trying to find some solutions,” Gilmore said. “But our biggest hurdle that we have to overcome is for me to build or to rebuild or to put a portable on this property they’re requiring me to build or to buy a 30,000 gallon water tank at the cost of around $50,000 that would hold enough water to put out a fire in our largest building.”

He says their recovery is at a halt as they wait for assessments, permits and try to figure out how to pay for the water tank.

“The Kathleen Middle School teachers have raised money to rent us a 12 ft. by 40 ft. container box with a refrigerator attached to it for one year and they’ve done that for us,” he said.


The generosity shown to each other provides comfort for some during a trying time.

“We didn’t know that anybody would even do that,” said Bonnie Nichols about community support.

RELATED: Here's how you can help the Polk County middle school impacted by tornado damage

She waited across the street from the church to meet volunteers to pick up a hot meal. Nichols said her mobile home was destroyed when a tree fell on it.

“Sometime we’re like just like aggravated. We don’t know what to do, what’s gonna happen, where we’re gonna go, where we’re gonna stay, no water no electric,” she said.

Families are still figuring out what they have left and what they do next, as debris lines streets and yards during clean up efforts.

RELATED: EF-2 tornado with 120 mph winds confirmed in Polk County, severe damage left behind

“The landscaping’s gonna be real different it’s a mess,” said Linda Wright, who’s home next to the church was destroyed.

Meanwhile, the church is still working to help others, collecting Pods full of donations to help. It expects to be out of its building for a least a couple more weeks.