FORT SMITH -- Area churches, schools and a monastery are sweeping and pumping out after a violent hailstorm swept through western Arkansas April 9. The storm, which affected up to 40 square miles of Fort Smith, was especially severe in the downtown area north of Rogers Avenue.
St. Boniface Church, which had lost several priceless stained glass windows in a 1980s tornado, had the foresight to install Plexiglas weatherproofing over its windows several years ago. Thanks to the shields, only a few small windows were damaged.
Its school, however, was hard hit, losing a number of windows resulting in flooded classrooms. Classes at four area Catholic schools were cancelled April 10.
"The staff was wonderful," principal Dr. Karen Hollenbeck said. "Everyone showed up and started work at 8, just like a normal school day. We vacuumed and vacuumed and vacuumed until 2 p.m. A parent had donated an emergency generator so that the cafeteria food wouldn't spoil."
Further downtown, Immaculate Conception Church lost two small stained glass and one small frosted window in its church. Its St. Anne building lost every window on the west side of the building except for the chapel.
"The storm was so strong that one window was thrown all the way from the west end of the building to the chapel," business manager Cindy McNally said. "We had a lot of volunteers cleaning up."
Immaculate Conception School, which had installed new windows last summer, lost all the classroom windows on the west side of the building.
Christ the King, a little further southeast, fared better than its neighboring churches. It lost two windows -- one in the school and one in the administration building, suffered some dents and dings on window sills, siding stucco, and the copper-sided columbarium, and had a few leaks in the gym and the director of religious education's office.
St. Scholastica Monastery received damage to 52 windows in the retreat center and 18 in the monastery, broken tiles to the monastery roof, broken screens and blinds and broken windows on one car and one truck. Most of the broken windows in the monastery were on the third-floor infirmary wing, but the sisters and employees had evacuated the bedrooms and no one was hurt.
Despite the severity of the damage, all parishes reported that volunteers and staff worked hard to get the schools open by Friday, April 11, and building and grounds workers are working with insurance adjusters and starting to repair whatever can be done in-house.
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