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California Church Loses Building Due to Earthquake

By Scott Barkley
earthquake rio dell
Damage to the church building focused on a two-story wing and the basement below the sanctuary, though the foundation remained in good shape. (Photo courtesy of Rod Sanderson / Baptist Press)

A Southern Baptist congregation in northern California will continue to meet in its sanctuary after a 6.4 earthquake Dec. 20 left other buildings incapable of long-term use, the church’s pastor told Baptist Press.

Inspectors arrived at Rio Dell Baptist Church in Rio Dell, California, on Dec. 25 shortly before Christmas Day services, said Pastor Rod Sanderson. They marked an education wing and the downstairs as only available for “limited entry,” meaning items can be removed, but no meetings can take place there.

Interior walls moved about five inches and remain displaced, while outside walls have returned to normal alignment. Some exterior siding containing asbestos fell when nail fasteners popped off.

“The foundation is in pretty good shape, but the walls have moved. Windows are broken. Some doors won’t shut,” he said.

Rio Dell is roughly ten miles east of Ferndale, which is located near the coast and experienced the strongest waves of the early morning earthquake.

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Sanderson’s father, Edward, served as pastor of Rio Dell for 22 years until his son stepped into the role in 1992. The area went through a series of earthquakes that year, too, Sanderson said.

And even though the events aren’t uncommon to the area, earthquake insurance is so cost-prohibitive that very few people buy it, said Sanderson. He’s worked in the lumber business for years and expects repairs to reach $100,000. The church had already saved $12,000 toward a new roof.

“Now we have a different goal and different numbers,” he said.

Cracked walls reveal the earthquake damage (Photo: Rod Sanderson / Baptist Press)

No members were hurt from the earthquake, he added, but homes did experience broken items.

Sanderson arrived early Christmas morning to make sure the heater was working. The inspectors arrived a few minutes later.

For the next 45 minutes, the inspection included a discussion over whether the buildings should be red-tagged or marked as restricted due to imposing an imminent threat.

The church retained its sanctuary for use, but there will be some modifications.

“Everything will be there,” said Sanderson. “Sunday School, meetings. We’re probably going to move some tables from the fellowship hall in there until we can get something resolved for classrooms.”

The service Dec. 25 brought a time of worship, but also reflection, Sanderson said.

“This has taught us some things,” he said. “What to prioritize, how important we are to each other. Our people have talked about how it has led them to be closer.”

This article originally appeared at Baptist Press.

Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.



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