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Man Shares Lesson From Past Tornado

April 11, 1998

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ Dale Clem uses a Carl Sandburg poem to describe his feelings about the 1994 tornado that killed his 4-year-old daughter and 19 other people at Goshen United Methodist Church in Piedmont.

``If I should pass the tomb of Jonah.

``I think I would stop there and sit for a while.

``Because I was swallowed one time deep in the dark.

``And came out alive after all.″

It’s a memory he shares almost daily with his wife, the Rev. Kelly Clem, who was preaching at the church in northeast Alabama that terrible Palm Sunday.

And it was brought home anew Wednesday when a tornado hit central Alabama, killing 33 and injuring many more, some at church during Easter week.

Now scores of others have the same task the Clems faced four years ago _ rebuilding their families and their communities.

``You realize there’s work to be done,″ Dale Clem said. ``You grieve awhile, work awhile. That’s the only way to do it. You grieve and you work. Frankly, at some point, you’ll end up feeling good that you have something to do.″

He has written a book, ``Winds of Fury, Circles of Grace,″ that describes his family’s experience, and his view of God’s role in the devastation.

His wife stood out as a hero that week _ leading the church’s Easter service with swollen eyes, cuts on her face and a broken heart from her daughter’s death.

They have since moved to Gadsden, where both are pastors at Methodist churches. They have a new daughter, named Laurel Hope.

``We went through the early stages of shock and denial,″ Dale Clem said. ``We went through the phase where we couldn’t believe this was really happening to us. But life goes on. Life gets better. It’s something people need to remember.″

A friend of the Clems, Dave Rhinehart, lost a nephew, an uncle and three other relatives in the 1994 tornado, which destroyed 108 homes and damaged 1,000 more.

``The biggest thing I would tell anyone is `don’t give up,‴ Rhinehart said. ``Because they won’t realize how much they will rise from this _ the growth for the communities, for their churches, the closeness they will have with each other.″

``You have trouble accepting things, letting others do things for you,″ Rhinehart said. ``But one thing you have to realize is that for everything you’ve received, one of these days, you’ll be able to share your help with someone else.″

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