SOUTH OZONE PARK, Queens (WABC) -- A lightning strike sparked a church fire in Queens Wednesday night, and crews remain on the scene amid fears the steeple could collapse.
The Department of Buildings determined the steeple of the Spirit and Truth Christian Church on Sutter Avenue in South Ozone Park is unstable, prompting a vacate order to be issued for the property and a full evacuation of a neighboring building as a safety precaution.
Crews worked hard to save the house of worship as flames raced up the front of the building following the strike during strong storms around 7:30 p.m.
Neighbors say the clap of thunder that preceded the fire was even more dramatic than the actual flames.
Witnesses say the steeple took a direct hit from a lightning bolt, and firefighters ripped giant holes at its base to attack any trace of flames.
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Fortunately, the church was empty when the storm passed through, and no injuries were reported.
Pastor Daniel Marimuthu said he was very disappointed, because it was only two weeks ago that his congregation returned to physical services after spending months apart due to COVID-19.
Now the uncertainty has returned, but the man of God still sees reason to be thankful.
"We just have to say thank you God nobody was in there when this happened," he said. "I guess this can be repaired."
He's vowing to rebuild, though he's already been told the steeple will have to come down.
"They said it could fall, so we have to take it down," he said. "So we are waiting to talk to a contractor."
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Marimuthu was conducting bible study online when lightning hit, something that would normally have been taking place in person inside the church.
"I would've been in the building last night," he said. "We try to avoid people coming to the church building because of the COVID."
Four members of the congregation have died from the virus- including one family losing both mother and father.
Still, the pastor says they haven't lost faith.
"Hang in there, keep on praying and trusting God," he said. "Because God has never disappointed us.
Pastor Marimuthu has led the church for 30 years. They have 200 members, and he's looking to see if another church can house them until they can rebuild.
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