St. Frances Cabrini Parish responds with compassion to victims of EF-4 tornado

By Joan Kurkowski-Gilllen

Correspondent

North Texas Catholic

May 16, 2013

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A rescue worker combs through debris May 16 after tornadoes swept through Granbury late May 15. At least six people were killed and about 100 injured as three tornadoes ripped through a stretch of Texas south of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, destroying a number of homes, authorities said. The St. Frances Cabrini Parish Life Center served as a temporary shelter immediately following the tornadoes. (CNS photo/Richard Rodriguez, Reuters)

“Overwhelmed.” That’s how relief volunteer Julie Lyssy described the families who sought shelter inside St. Frances Cabrini’s Family Life Center after an EF-4 tornado ravaged their neighborhoods May 15. The deadly funnel cloud descended on the eastern section of Granbury around 8 p.m. killing six and destroying 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 parishioners of St. Frances Cabrini Church located 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, Monsignor 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. Thirty-seven people sustained injuries in the storm and were treated at local hospitals.

The tornado that swept through Granbury with winds up to 200 miles per hour was part of a larger weather system generating 10 funnel clouds, thunderstorms, and large hail across North Texas. Cleburne and Ennis also reported damage.

By Thursday afternoon, the American Red Cross was directing the newly homeless to Granbury’s First Christian Church where the organization set up its primary assistance center. Donations of material goods were discouraged at the present time because of limited storage space. 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.”

People who would like to help tornado survivors can contribute to the American Red Cross Chisholm Trail Chapter. Volunteers who will be needed to clear debris in a few days will be able sign up at the First United Methodist Church of Granbury.

To contact a missing friend or family member, register with the American Red Cross online or call 682-498-8010.

“We’re trying as quickly as we can to input names into the system,” Lyssy said.

“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. “God is providing in so many ways. We ask for prayers as we help rebuild not only the physical, but spiritual (needs of our community). 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, the city is better prepared to handle a crisis than most places, Lyssy added. 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. Many of the residents of the subdivision are members of the parish. 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 added. “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.

The St. Frances parishioner said she’s extremely proud of her church’s quick response to the crisis. Thirty minutes after the twister 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.”

“Overwhelmed.” That’s how relief volunteer Julie Lyssy described the families who sought shelter inside St. Frances Cabrini’s Family Life Center after an EF-4 tornado ravaged their neighborhoods May 15. The deadly funnel cloud descended on the eastern section of Granbury around 8 p.m. killing six and destroying more than 50 homes and trailers in the Rancho Brazos subdivision. Injuries and damage were also reported...

Published (until 5/16/2063)