WASHINGTON — Following a devastating tornado in Oklahoma on May 20, Church leaders and national figures offered their prayers and condolences for those affected by the disaster.
“The experience of loss of family members, homes, neighborhoods and even the local hospital shows a devastation that impels us to stand with you and all the good people of Moore, both in prayer for comfort and in efforts for disaster relief to ease the suffering of those whose lives have been affected by this dreadful disaster,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York said to Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City in a May 21 letter.
“May the words of Jesus, ‘Behold I am with you always,’ and who calmed the storms, bring hope and comfort at this sensitive moment in the history of your diocese,” said the cardinal, who serves as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
“May all those affected by such pain feel the strength God offers them and the compassion of all who stand with them, be it in their hometown or miles away.”
On the afternoon of May 20, a tornado with winds estimated at 210 mph traveled through central Oklahoma. As of Tuesday afternoon, 24 individuals were confirmed to be dead, including nine children, and more than 230 people have reported injuries.
The majority of the damage occurred in Moore, Okla., in the northwest suburbs of Oklahoma City. This is the fifth significant tornado to strike the town since 1998.
President Barack Obama also offered his condolences and prayers, and he vowed that the American people would “back up those prayers with deeds for as long as it takes.”
“For all those who’ve been affected, we recognize that you face a long road ahead,” Obama said. “In some cases, there will be enormous grief that has to be absorbed. But you will not travel that path alone. Your country will travel it with you, fueled by our faith in the Almighty and our faith in one another.”
Obama has also approved a Major Disaster Declaration, authorizing emergency funds for the state, and has sent the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, W. Craig Fugate, to personally supervise the disaster response.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, also offered prayers for those affected by the tornado. “Our hearts and our prayers go out to those in Oklahoma who were victimized by this storm, especially our colleague Tom Cole,” said Boehner in a press conference. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., is from Moore, and is currently in his home state.
Boehner also ordered that flags be flown at half mast “in honor of those who have suffered through the terrible storm.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., took the floor to express her sympathy and condolences to those in Oklahoma, and she offered prayers and words of support as well.
“We’ve seen natural disasters come and go,” she said, adding that in the face of disasters, “it’s very hard to see how people can be made whole, but we are always hopeful that they will be.” She noted that people can “have hope in the charity of others, that we can work together to come through this.”
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, promised that all donations collected would go towards relief efforts in Oklahoma.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and the damage caused by the tornadoes in Oklahoma,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in a May 21 statement.
“We will work with our state and local councils to help the people of Oklahoma recover from this disaster, and we ask all members of the Knights of Columbus to keep those affected in their prayers.”