By Jack Elliott Jr.
JACKSON – As a student minister preached at a youth center in Mississippi, the wooden floor started to rumble and quickly collapsed, sending about 70 people tumbling and sliding onto the first floor below.
About 35 people were injured during the youth service Wednesday night, with most of them suffering cuts and broken bones. A 16-year-old girl had a head injury, but none of the injuries was considered life-threatening. Everyone was released from the hospital by midnight.
“We were blessed by the Lord,” Pastor Tommy Davis told The Associated Press on Thursday. “Today, we are getting all the inspections done to a get a better prospective about what happened Wednesday night.”
The two-story metal prefabricated building had been used as a community activity center for basketball games and meetings in Laurel, which is in southern Mississippi. There are classrooms and a large recreation room where the young congregation had gathered. The adult members of Freedom Baptist Church were worshipping at the church next door.
Linda Cranford, a spokeswoman for the Jones County Fire Council, said church leaders and members got their first good look inside the building Thursday.
“The floor collapsed in like a ‘V’ or funnel. It was an area of about 30 feet by 40 feet that gave way,” Cranford said.
Witnesses reported hearing a low rumble before the floor gave way as student minister Kevin Price gave a sermon.
“Kevin was preaching on everything we own isn’t our own,” Tori Hodge, 18, told The Chronicle newspaper in Laurel. “Everybody heard it. The floor started crumbling and waving. People started falling through the ceiling, just like you’d see in a movie.”
The floor is above a kitchen area. The drop was about 12 feet, said Sheriff Alex Hodge.
“The floor gave way right in the middle. You can see board hanging there,” Jones County Emergency Operations director Marda Tullos said.
Davis, the pastor, praised the leaders of the worship service for their quick action in restoring calm. He said the students, ranging in age from 12 to 18 years, had all been reunited with their parents.
Several of those hurt were shaken but had only minor injuries and were treated and released at the scene. Others were taken to hospitals.