By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON – The chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee May 24 called for "prayers for the victims and their grieving families and communities" affected by devastating storms from Texas to Illinois.
"I am profoundly saddened by the loss of life and the damage caused by the tornadoes and storms throughout the Midwest and related regions these past few days," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
"As of this writing, millions of people in at least seven states have been affected by the powerful winds, rainfall and rising water levels caused by these conditions," he said in a statement.
Bishop Dewane noted that at least seven people have been killed in Missouri, Iowa and Oklahoma. Severe weather was expected to continue "in this devastated area" in the days ahead, he added.
"We are grateful that Catholic Charities and other organizations are in place working to provide for emergency needs" and to help people rebuild their lives and homes," he said.
The Catholic Charities USA website has information about its efforts to help communities hit hard by the storms.
AccuWeather and other weather services said there were 33 reports of tornadoes May 22, mostly in Missouri and Kansas. A day earlier, 24 tornadoes were reported, mostly in Texas and Oklahoma.
According to a May 23 Associated Press article, tornadoes again "strafed the middle of the country," mostly in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. Flooding also has been a concern in many communities, with rising rivers and streams forcing residents fleeing from their homes.
In Missouri, a violent line of thunderstorms that spawned the tornadoes killed three people in the southwest part of the state and caused minor injuries to at least 20 people in Jefferson City, authorities said. Some people in the state capital were trapped in their homes or apartments and had to be assisted by safety forces.
In a May 23 statement, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City expressed gratitude that all residents had been accounted. Some people were forced from their homes as the storm swept through the city of 43,000 just before midnight May 22.
He said the staff of Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri were assessing the needs of residents. Diocesan offices on the west side of Jefferson City and Catholic parishes around the town were unaffected by the storm.
"Please continue to pray with us, for those who have suffered from this natural disaster and also for those who are coming to their assistance," Bishop McKnight said.
The most severe damage occurred in a three-square-mile area south and east of the central part of the Missouri capital, Jefferson City Police Lt. David Williams told reporters.
About 40 to 45 people were being housed the afternoon of May 23 in a school on the west side of the city, authorities said.
Homes, apartments and businesses lost roofs and windows. Power lines were down and trees and other debris blocked roads, hampering the initial emergency response. Some scaffolding erected around the Missouri State Capitol for renovation work was damaged, but the building escaped unscathed.
A spokeswoman for Catholic Charities USA said the agency was working with Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri to assess how to best respond to people affected by the storm.
CCUSA also was weighing its response in areas of northeast Oklahoma and elsewhere, where residents have been displaced by flooding caused by days of heavy rain.