Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh has asked the faithful to pray this Holy Week for the victims and survivors of the deadly April 16 tornadoes which struck parts of his diocese.
In a video message to the faithful of the Diocese of Raleigh, he said the storms left “death, injury and destruction.”
“The pictures of the devastation are dramatic, but much more significant are the people who have been so traumatically affected,” the bishop said. “In just a few seconds many lost all their possessions. Some were badly injured and, sadly, several lost their lives.”
“If you know of a need for immediate assistance in your community, please contact your local Catholic Charities office,” he added.
He also announced a special collection and asked Catholics to participate.
Some 60 tornadoes killed at least 21 people and left hundreds homeless in the worst storm in the state since 1984.
Survivors of the storms had dramatic stories of the events.
Twenty-one-year-old Jonathan Robinson saw the tornado moving towards his mobile home in the town of Dunn and grabbed his cousin’s three-month-old son. He ran towards a closet in his bedroom but the tornado tore his home into pieces around him and swept the baby into the sky.
“As soon as I jumped in the closet, it came down and that little baby flew out of my hand,” he told the Associated Press. “I seen him leave my arms. That's how strong the wind was.”
After a search through the rubble of the Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park, family members found the baby unconscious but with only minor injuries.
John Lucas, a 73-year-old resident of the same mobile home park, was buried under his home’s walls.
“I wasn't hurt. I was just pinned down on the floor and couldn't get out,” Lucas said. “According to what those people tell me, I'm a lucky man.”
Rev. Darren Whitehurst of Greater Wynns Gove Baptist Church saw his church damaged by the storm. Its steeple was swept away in the wind and hasn’t been found.
He helped dig church members out of the rubble of their homes before Palm Sunday services, whose message was about helping others in need.
“It's been a trying night. It's been a bloody night,” Whitehurst told the Associated Press. “But God is still good.”
The Catholic community is working with government officials to provide for victims in Bertie County, one of the hardest-hit areas where 11 lost their lives. They are helping assess damage and provide services such as trauma counseling.
In Wake County, the Catholic Charities agency Catholic Parish Outreach has been providing assistance to residents of a mobile home community which sustained major damage.
Three young children, members of St. Raphael Parish in Raleigh, died in the storm there.
“In this holiest of weeks, I ask that you include a special intention in your prayers every day for those who have died, those who are injured, and those who have suffered property loss or damage,” said Bishop Burbidge, who also asked for prayers for first responders and those tending to victims.
“May Our Lord be especially close to each of these most in need,” Bishop Burbidge prayed, “and may God also bless you and your family during these sacred days and always.”
Individuals may donate to the tornado relief effort through the web page of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh, marking their donation for “Disaster Relief.”