Letter from Bishop Ohl about Tornadoes in Texas, Oklahoma

Letter from Bishop Ohl about Tornadoes in Texas, Oklahoma

The Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl, second provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, has written a letter to the diocese:

Dear Friends,

Thank you to the many who have emailed and called in the last 24 hours asking about our safety. The tornados which have ravaged Oklahoma for the past 3 days have brought an incredible amount of damage and untold grief for many families.

It was just a week ago when the Diocese of Fort Worth was ripped apart by multiple twisters which destroyed parts of Granbury and Cleburne as well as other isolated rural dwellings, so I know you are aware of the fragility of life. I know many of you have experienced the devastation of tornadoes first hand. TV coverage does not even begin to show the true damage that these storms produce, and a verbal description only skims the surface of how bizarre the effects of these powerful winds can be.

The storm which hit Moore, OK yesterday afternoon was several miles from our home which is on the north side of Norman, and we didn’t have any direct effects from that storm except the loss of TV and cell phone coverage for several hours. I want to speak to that storm more in a moment.

On Sunday afternoon, as the storms were beginning to build we became aware of a storm which was headed toward Edmond. We have a granddaughter who has been attending college in Edmond this year and still works at a Lowe’s hardware store there. She was at work when that tornado passed over Edmond. Fortunately it was fairly mild–as tornadoes go–and did not touch down for a long destructive path in town. The staff and customers at Lowe’s were herded into the safest part of the building and then sent home when the storm passed. There was no damage or injury at Lowe’s, except for a few hail dings to cars in the parking lot. That same storm continued NE and the weather forecasters all predicted it would hit the small town of Carney, which is about 30 miles away. Sure enough, that same storm produced a much larger–F3 or F4–tornado which took direct aim at Carney. Until our son Greg and his wife moved to Carney about 9 years ago, I am not sure I had ever heard of the community. There are only a couple hundred inhabitants there, and most live on acreages, farms, and ranches nearby. Our son has 15 acres, 3 horses, a house, barn, and lots of trees. Or I should say had. Greg’s wife Eryn’s grandmother and mother live diagonally across the section from them in a large house with a couple of outbuildings and about 160 acres where they run some cattle. Eryn and their daughters Haleigh (9) and Kamber (6) were at Granny’s house mowing when the storm sirens prompted them to move to the storm cellar. The twister took off the roof of Greg’s house, took away the barn completely, picked up their large stock trailer (still don’t know where that came down) and scattered the livestock. It continued across the section and made a direct hit on GiGi’s house (Grandmother) and left only part of 1 wall standing as well as the 2 story chimney. Unfortunately all the vehicles at both houses were destroyed in place. For the past 3 months Greg has been working as an oilfield pipeline inspector southwest of Houston so he was not home. As soon as he could, he flew to OKC. We picked him up about 11:30pm Sunday night and gave him my Expedition to drive.

Yesterday we spent much of the morning and early afternoon helping to pick through what could be salvaged from Greg’s home. They had been wanting to remodel for some time, so the good news is that they will get a new home out of this. Even though the visible damage is the roof removal, the structural integrity of the walls has been compromised, so it will need to be leveled and rebuilt from the ground up. All of the family is unscathed except for the trauma of the storm and losing everything. As happens in rural areas, neighbors rounded up the horses and cattle and brought stock trailers to move them to secure pastures where fences are intact. At this point there is nothing they need. Greg commented that the storm proves they have WAY too much “stuff.” It will likely be months before anyone knows exactly what has been lost–pictures, legal records, precious items. But they are all safe and waiting for insurance to compute how this will be rebuilt. Many other houses and businesses in Carney were destroyed or severely damaged, but there were no serious injuries or loss of life. Thank God for the technology and warning systems which now are able to keep many more residents safe when these storms approach than was possible even a few years ago.

The Moore tornado was a monster, at least F4 and maybe F5. It followed almost exactly the path of one of the worst tornadoes in US history on May 3 1999. Yesterday’s storm went right through some new housing developments and destroyed 2 elementary schools, took out many businesses, and left cars and trucks strewn about like toys. The last count I heard was 51 fatalities, including 7 children at one of the schools. But late last night there were still 20 or so children unaccounted for, and that does not include individuals and families who were not at either of the schools. Probably by noon today we will have a better estimate of casualties and damage. I can tell you that from aerial footage–which I am sure many or you have seen–the devastation is horrendous.

If you really want to do something, send a donation to ERD and earmark it for tornado relief. The storms in Oklahoma, Texas and other states have created needs that can best be addressed by those on the ground who have the big picture. The Diocese of Oklahoma has been in touch with ERD to help coordinate the relief efforts. Our family, as I have said, needs nothing at this time. FEMA is also working with local entities to assist those who have nothing and don’t know where to turn next. Many families do not have the resources of family, friends and most especially Church to assist in the clean-up and rebuilding, not only the physical homes but the emotional and spiritual homes as well. Pray for those nameless-to-you families who have suffered loss and for whom the trauma is most severe. And hug those closest to you and give God thanks that you can hold them close.

Again, thanks for your concern for Sheila and me, and offer a prayer for us too.


PS: And when the storm sirens sound, find your underground shelter or safe room and go there at once!