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Parishioners Mobilize after Tornado in Northern Texas
Joan Kurkowski-Gillen
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Sunday, May 19, 2013
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An aerial view shows the damage after tornadoes swept through Hood County, Texas, May 16.
GRANBURY, Texas (CNS) — "Overwhelmed." That's how relief volunteer Julie Lyssy described the families who sought shelter inside St. Frances Cabrini's Family Life Center after a tornado ravaged their neighborhoods May 15.

The deadly funnel cloud, one of several tornadoes that ripped through parts of north Texas, killed six, injured more than 100, left seven missing and destroyed more than 50 homes and trailers in the Rancho Brazos subdivision. Injuries and damage were also reported in the nearby Pecan Plantation community.

Many of the affected — including some of the deceased — are members of St. Frances Cabrini Parish, 35 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

"The 15 to 20 people who came here last night knew there was nothing else they could do," said Lyssy, the church's communications spokesperson, who coordinated emergency outreach efforts with her husband, Thomas. "As soon as they realized they were safe, everyone turned to prayer."

Storm victims formed two circles inside the parish hall. One group recited the rosary in English and the other in Spanish. The church's pastor, Msgr. Juan Rivero, spent the night comforting visitors and offering a blessing when asked.

At sunrise, people left the emergency Red Cross shelter to inspect damage or look for loved ones.

The tornado that swept through Granbury with winds up to 200 mph was part of a larger weather system generating 10 funnel clouds, thunderstorms and large hail across north Texas.

By the afternoon after the twister, the Red Cross was directing the newly homeless to Granbury's First Christian Church, where the organization set up its primary assistance center. Granbury churches have received clothing, food, and water. One moving company dropped off boxes.

"We're overloaded, which is a good thing, but we're running out of places to put things," Lyssy explained. "There's been a huge outpouring. During a community meeting, a man from the American Red Cross was duly impressed by how much had been mobilized in three hours."

"We are saddened by these events, but also proud of how quickly our community has come together to serve those in need," Msgr. Rivero said in a statement to the North Texas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Fort Worth. "God is providing in so many ways. We ask for prayers as we help rebuild not only the physical (needs of the community), but spiritual. We thank God for the light he will bring to this darkness."

Although a tragedy of this magnitude hasn't happened to Granbury in recent history, Lissy said, the city is better prepared to handle a crisis than most places. An emergency plan is always in place because of the community's proximity to the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant in nearby Glen Rose.

"That emergency plan was mobilized last night," said Lyssy, describing how a torrent of hail, high winds and an oddly colored sky preceded the twister.

Moments after the tornado hit, church volunteers stepped in to help. Spanish speakers arrived to assist residents of the heavily Hispanic Rancho Brazos neighborhood leveled by the storm. Other church members set up the 72 cots, blankets and pillows stored inside the Family Life Center. The bedding is used twice a year during St. Frances' Christ Renews His Parish retreat.

"It was easy to organize because we had all the equipment we needed on hand," the volunteer said. "Wal-Mart came out last night and donated things we needed. Kroger offered to make sandwiches. All the businesses are reaching out to help."

The morning after the storm was spent trying to contact parishioners in affected neighborhoods — a task hampered by downed power lines.

"We put together a list and are trying to check on parishioners and anyone else who needs help," Lyssy explained.

Lyssy said she's extremely proud of her church's quick response to the crisis. Thirty minutes after the tornado hit, 25 volunteers drove to the parish without being called, provisions were in place, and interpreters were available to help distraught victims cope with the tragedy without the added stress of a language barrier.

"Until God raises you to the task, you don't know what you can accomplish," she said. "This is the first time the Lord has put us through the test, and I do feel we rose to the occasion. And I think we'll continue to do so throughout this."

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Kurkowski-Gillen is a correspondent for the North Texas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

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