LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — At least 35 people have been killed in deadly storms and tornadoes in the South, and Catholic agencies are preparing long-term support for the storm’s victims.
“The storm was really powerful,” Patrick Gallaher, executive director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas, told CNA April 28. “They’re not finding many damaged homes. They’re either untouched or they’re completely blown away, just blasted off the foundations. A smooth concrete slab is all that’s left.”
Storms including high winds and dozens of tornadoes destroyed homes and businesses, flipping cars and uprooting trees across Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee on April 27 and April 28, USA Today reported.
Some wind speeds in Tennessee’s Lincoln County exceeded 190 mph. One tornado in Arkansas was particularly deadly, reportedly killing at least 15.
The small Arkansas towns of Mayflower and Vilonia were hardest hit. Vilonia had previously been hit by a strong tornado in 2011.
“They were almost rebuilt,” Gallaher said.
He reported that authorities have finished searching for and rescuing survivors and are presently assessing the damage.
Catholic Charities of Arkansas is coordinating with Catholic parishes in the vicinity and with agencies outside of the area, including Catholic Charities USA. The agency does not specialize in being a first responder. Rather, it assists in disaster follow-up action.
“We do furnish the clean-up teams, and our forte over the years has been the long-term-recovery case management,” Gallaher said. “That’s what we’re coordinating right now.”
The agency aims to help storm victims get “back on their feet.”
The parish hall of St. Joseph Church in Conway, Ark., the only Catholic church in Faulkner County, serves as one of several American Red Cross emergency shelters for those displaced by the tornado. Gallaher said only a small number of people are staying at the 200-person capacity shelter. They may move out within the next few days.
Gallaher reported that there has been an “outpouring of donations” of in-kind items to help storm victims, to the point that there are now logistical problems organizing the donations. However, he believes that these donations may decrease soon. He said the agency is “very appreciative” of monetary donations.
The Diocese of Little Rock, Ark., is accepting donations for disaster-relief funds, and online donations may be made through the American Red Cross.
Catholic Charities of Jackson is also accepting donations to support victims in Mississippi.