By STEPHEN O'KANE and GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writers | Published May 12, 2011
In the aftermath of tornadoes that swept across Georgia April 27, Catholic Charities Atlanta is offering aid to victims of the storms.
Ethel Higgins, disaster response coordinator for Catholic Charities Atlanta, said the organization is currently involved with setting up disaster recovery centers in Spalding County, south of Atlanta, where they have been working with residents and other organizations in various relief efforts. The group plans to be there for the next few weeks.
“There are a handful of counties south of Atlanta that weren’t getting as much attention,” said Higgins about relief efforts across the state. “We wanted to come down here to show our presence and support.”
Higgins said Catholic Charities USA has provided $10,000 in emergency funds that her team can utilize to provide victims with gas cards, food vouchers, and assistance with rent and utility payments, among other things.
“We are hoping for more cash donations to help in the long term,” said Higgins.
There were a total of 15 tornadoes recorded in north and central Georgia on April 27. Fifteen people were killed in Georgia. Twenty-five counties so far have been declared eligible for federal disaster aid. Among the hardest hit was the small city of Ringgold in Catoosa County. Eight of those killed lived in Ringgold.
Alex Hagan, the claims risk manager for Catholic Mutual insurance in the Atlanta Archdiocese, said May 2 there have been no reports to his office of structural damage at Catholic churches or schools in the archdiocese.
Msgr. Leo Herbert, pastor of two churches in northwest Georgia, said the mission of St. Katharine Drexel in Trenton was fortunate.
“The church itself was spared. The little hall was also spared. Three large oak trees crashed into our parking lot. We were fortunate it did not hit our building,” Msgr. Herbert said. “Most of our parishioners were inconvenienced by losing water and power. Most have their power and water restored now. Some have damage. We have one parishioner whose home was destroyed.”
He said what the mission of 45 to 50 families experienced pales in comparison to what nearby communities like Ringgold suffered.
“We hope to take up a second collection here at this parish next week,” Msgr. Herbert said, speaking of Our Lady of the Mount in Lookout Mountain. “We are fortunate. We will get by. If anybody wants to help, it would certainly be appreciated. It would go to anyone in our area who needs help.”
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory has asked, at the request of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, that if possible, parishes and missions schedule a second collection to benefit the victims of the tornadoes. All donations will be distributed by Catholic Charities USA to Catholic Charities’ offices in dioceses impacted by the storms.
Other Southern Catholic dioceses were hard hit by the devastating tornadoes that killed more than 350 people.
In an April 29 letter, Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Ala., asked all pastors in his archdiocese to hold a second collection to assist tornado victims, especially in the neighboring Diocese of Birmingham, which covers the northern portion of Alabama, home to the hardest hit cities of Birmingham, Cullman and Tuscaloosa.
Birmingham Bishop Robert J. Baker has toured some tornado-ravaged areas in his diocese and comforted survivors of the devastating storms, but diocesan officials are still determining the extent of the damage, said Mary A. Crockett, managing editor of One Voice, newspaper of the Diocese of Birmingham.
“I’ve got to say I’ve never seen devastation like this,” President Barack Obama said during an April 29 tour of tornado-damaged areas in Alberta, Ala. “It is heartbreaking.”
Pope Benedict XVI also sent his prayers and support to victims and those engaged in relief and rebuilding efforts in the region.
The pope’s message was sent in a May 2 letter to Archbishop Rodi from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state.
Pope Benedict “was saddened to learn of the tragic consequences of the devastating tornado which struck Alabama and neighboring states, and he asks you to express his deep solidarity and pastoral concern to those affected by this natural catastrophe,” Cardinal Bertone said in the letter.
“He joins all of you in offering fervent prayers that Almighty God will grant eternal peace to those who have died and consolation and strength to the homeless, injured and suffering,” the cardinal added. “Upon the local civil and religious leaders, and upon all engaged in the work of relief and rebuilding, he invokes the divine gifts of wisdom, strength and generous perseverance.”
In the past several weeks, tornadoes have caused death and destruction in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.
“Quite tragically, the severity of this spring tornado and storm season has taken lives and created destruction in unheard of proportions,” said Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, in an April 28 news release. “Our prayers go out to all of the families and individuals impacted. In the aftermath, we need your help and support.”
The national organization is coordinating with local agencies and providing assistance and support as needed, and fundraising efforts are underway, Father Snyder said.
Archbishop Dolan said he planned to appoint a task force of several bishops to analyze the needs of the affected dioceses and to work with Catholic Charities USA to allocate the funds received.
Members of the Knights of Columbus in Alabama were encouraged by their state deputy, Ray Carney, to contribute what they could to state relief efforts through a Knights Tornado Disaster Relief Account. He also urged members to get in touch with local pastors and respond with material help and manpower wherever needed to set up kitchens to feed those in need and to store donated, nonperishable items in warehouses, containers or tractor-trailers. He noted that more than 500 people are still missing in the Tuscaloosa area alone.
Local donations may be made online at www.catholiccharitiesatlanta.org or sent to: Archdiocese of Atlanta, P.O. 101216, Atlanta, GA 30392-1216.