Nebraska parish mobilizes to help neighbors after massive tornado

Nebraska tornado Aerial view of tornado damage in Elkhorn, Nebraska, taken on April 29, 2024. Tornadoes ripped through the Midwest over the weekend of April 26–28, 2024. | Credit: mpi34/MediaPunch/IPX/AP Photo

After a blockbuster night of severe weather that saw tornadoes touch down in at least six states on Friday, one Catholic parish in Nebraska is stepping up in a particular way to help their neighbors after a massive twister leveled parts of their community April 26.

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Elkhorn, Nebraska, a suburb northwest of Omaha, mobilized volunteers in recent days to coordinate monetary donations and gift cards for more than 30 local families whose homes have suffered various degrees of damage. The church also opened its doors to local law enforcement, which used the church’s gym as a reunification point after the storm.

“We reached out and extended help pretty instantly,” Eric Crawford, the parish’s advancement director, told CNA.

The parish itself, which is in the process of building a new sanctuary about half a mile from its current site, was relatively untouched, but homes “half a mile to a mile” away were flattened, Crawford said. The Friday tornadoes — two notably large ones hit the Omaha area — ultimately destroyed or damaged at least 150 homes, the AP reported. Miraculously, there have not been any reported fatalities thus far. The larger of the two tornadoes tore through Elkhorn. 

“We were narrowly missed … but some of our parishioners live in that area, and so they’ve been directly affected by it,” he said. 

One of those parishioners was a bedridden man who was unable to get to his basement when the tornado ripped through his home. Miraculously, the man survived with non-life-threatening injuries, and two crucifixes and an image of the Virgin Mary remained on the ruined walls untouched, according to a local news report.

Crawford encouraged people of goodwill to donate to the parish’s Human Needs Committee, which is working with the Omaha Rapid Response Team, a local nonprofit disaster-response team founded by Omaha churches.

“Keep our parish in your prayers, and then if [you] feel called to make some sort of contribution to our cause and our relief efforts, that would be much appreciated,” he said.

The Omaha chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is also accepting monetary donations, as is Catholic Charities Omaha (CCO). Dave Vankat, CCO’s chief community engagement officer, told CNA that the agency is prepared to offer long-term help for the tornado victims, such as food assistance and mental health resources, including mental health assistance for school children who may have been traumatized by the experience of the storm.

A contemplative community of religious sisters, the Poor Clare Nuns of Omaha, is located in Elkhorn just a few miles from the path the tornado and just a seven-minute drive from St. Patrick’s Parish. Mother Kathleen Hawkins, OSC, the abbess of the community, told CNA that the monastery lost power and had to rely on a backup generator during the storm. She said none of the sisters were injured and there does not appear to be any damage to the property but also that the monastery has been flooded with calls from people wanting to make sure the nuns are safe.

An extremely active day of tornadoes in the Midwest came to a head on April 26, with dozens of tornadoes reported across the broad swath of the central U.S. The next day, Saturday, saw large numbers of tornadoes develop in Oklahoma, where semitrucks were overturned on I-35 and at least four people died.

This story has been updated.

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