National Catholic Register

Daily News

Super Storm

South assesses the damage after devastating twisters.


| Posted 4/28/11 at 3:04 PM

CNS photo/Marvin Gentry, Reuters

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Yesterday’s super storm spawned more than 100 tornadoes that left a path of death and destruction across the South. There have been 250 deaths reported in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia, with the greatest devastation centered in Alabama.

Today, amid more severe storm warnings, rescue workers are attempting to assess the damage and help those in need.

The hardest hit areas appeared to be Birmingham, Cullman and Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said it would be days before the full death toll would be known.

At present, Alabama is reporting at least 131 deaths, with 31 in DeKalb County alone. Thirty-two deaths were reported in Mississippi, 16 in Tennessee, 13 in Georgia, eight in Virginia and one in Kentucky.

These storms follow those that hit just over a week ago in Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Virginia, killing at least 63.

According to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, Alabama typically has an average of three tornadoes per year. Yesterday’s storms produced at least 19 tornadoes throughout the state.

With both Cullman and Tuscaloosa in the Diocese of Birmingham, it looks as if that diocese has been hit the hardest.

Sally Crockett, managing editor of One Voice, the Diocese of Birmingham’s newspaper, said that the diocese is still trying to determine the full extent of the damage.

“The power is out, and cell phone towers are down,” said Crockett.

“Communication has been very difficult,” said Frank Savage, spokesman for the Diocese of Birmingham. “We’re trying to assess the damage and haven’t been able to reach all of our locations, even by telephone.”

“What we do know is that Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Tuscaloosa just barely missed the tornado by yards, and it doesn’t appear to have a large amount of damage,” said Savage. “We haven’t been able to make contact with the pastor of the parish at the University of Alabama.”


Other concerns identified by Savage included a lack of potable water in Tuscaloosa and an inability to reach anyone at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and School in Cullman.

“Bishop Robert Baker will be doing a tour of the diocese tomorrow,” said Savage. “That way he’ll be able to get a firsthand sense of what the needs are.”

Crockett added that the Sacred Heart Benedictine Monastery and Church in Cullman had sustained window damage.

Neither EWTN, in Irondale, Ala., just outside Birmingham, nor the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville appeared to have sustained any structural damage.

“Miraculously, EWTN’s facilities and operations sustained no damage or interruptions as a result of the tornadoes,” said Michael Warsaw, president and CEO of EWTN. “So far, we have no indications of fatalities or injuries to our staff or their families. This has been a devastating event for the state of Alabama. We hope that our EWTN family and friends around the world will join us in praying for those who have been killed, injured or otherwise affected by the storms.”

Elsewhere, the Church was responding with shelter and social services to those displaced by the storms.

Fifty-five students on spring break from Elyria Catholic School in northwestern Ohio were clearing debris and cutting up fallen trees for property owners in southwestern Virginia.
The Hiwassee Chapter of the Red Cross set up a shelter in the gymnasium at St. Therese Catholic Church in Cleveland, Ga.

“Currently, we have three families who have lost their homes in the gymnasium,” said volunteer Norma Martin, where immediate needs of toiletries, towels, food and water are being met. “We’re expecting more. We’ve had several parishioners who have lost their homes, but are staying with other family members.”

Register senior writer Tim Drake writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota.