Moore, Oklahoma (CNN) – Amid downed power lines, hissing gas pipes and immense devastation, rescuers searched “board by board” Tuesday for survivors and victims of a massive tornado that pulverized a vast swath of the Oklahoma City suburbs.
It was a daunting task. The Monday afternoon storm carved a trail through the area as much as two miles wide and 22 miles long, officials said. Hardest hit was Moore, Oklahoma — a suburban town of 40,000 and the site of eerily similar twisters in 1999 and again four years later.
The state medical examiner’s office said 24 people were confirmed dead, including nine children. Earlier reports of at least 51 deaths were erroneous, said Amy Elliot, chief administrative officer for the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
At least 100 people have been pulled alive from the rubble by rescuers.
Pastoral Letter from Michael K. Girlinghouse, Bishop, The Arkansas Oklahoma Synod
May 21, 2013
Dear Friends in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.
Over the last two days, we have watched in horror and awe as the fury of nature has devastated communities in central Oklahoma. Tornadoes swept through Carney, Little Axe and Shawnee on Sunday evening and through Moore on Monday, destroyed homes, businesses and lives. We weep with those who lost loved ones in Moore and with those who are still waiting to find out if their loved ones are OK. The deaths of children in their elementary school are particularly troubling.
I invite you to continue to pray for the people of the impacted communities over the next days, weeks and months. Continue to pray for those who will be involved in the recovery efforts. We give thanks for the first responders, government officials who are coordinating relief efforts and others who are doing what they can to help the victims of the storms. We give thanks for the members of the media who forewarned us so that we could take shelter from the storms. Without those warnings, many more would have been hurt, injured or killed. At the end of this letter, I have included a petition for us to use across the Synod on Sunday to lift up before God with one voice in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in central Oklahoma.
When disasters strike, we all want to do something to help. The goodness of God that dwells in us, moves us to want to respond to pain and suffering of a brother and sister. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, we all suffer together…” (1 Cor. 12:26). Our Synod is responding to the disaster in a number of ways:
- We have set up an account to receive monetary donations to help with the relief efforts. Please send your gifts and offerings to the Synod office. See below for details. We will work with the congregations in the area to use them to the greatest effect in the affected communities. Along with your prayers, this is the best immediate response to the disaster.
- I have already been in conversation with Lutheran Disaster Response and they are prepared to work with us as we respond to the disaster in the days ahead. LDR primarily focuses on long-term recovery rather than first response (like the Salvation Army or Red Cross). We Lutherans have a reputation for sticking around and working with communities long after the media has moved on to other things.
- We will be working with the congregations in the area to coordinate our response. Assistant to the Bishop, Annette Kezbers, is our disaster coordinator. We will let you know in the days ahead how you can help. Right now, individuals and groups who want to help will get in the way of the trained first responders who are still searching through the remains of homes and buildings for survivors. In the days, weeks and months ahead, groups and individuals will be needed to help with the recovery. Right now, you can be organizing and planning for these groups and we will let you know when it is best to come and help.
- If you have specific ideas for responding to the disaster, or your congregation is doing something, please let us know. We can share those ideas through our Synod communications, and support one another in our response efforts.
I have always been convinced that God gathers us in communities exactly for times like these. As Genesis tells us, it is not good for us to be alone. (Genesis 2:18) As we support and care for one another through times of tragedy and disaster, God’s presence, love, support and mercy are experienced and shared. God is with us as we are with one another in God’s name. We are the Body of Christ for one another. Thank-you so much for your prayers, your support, your concern and your compassion for all of us who live in central Oklahoma.
A Petition for the People of Central Oklahoma
God of steadfast love, though destructive winds swirl around us, shattering our lives, we believe and trust that you are with us, just as you have always walked with your people through storm and strife. Today, we pray for the people of Carney, Little Axe, Shawnee, Newcastle, and Moore Oklahoma and all those affected by tornadoes this past week. Use us to surround them with your love, compassion and mercy. Provide them with caregivers and friends to accompany them on the long road to recovery. Be with all those who weep and mourn during these days, and comfort them with your hope and the promise of resurrection. We pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who gave his life so that we might know that you have the power to bring life from death. Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Oklahoma Disaster Fund
To mail a donation:
Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod Office
7030 S Yale Ave. Ste 404
Tulsa, OK 74136-5729
On the home page in the Links section, click on “Online Donation”
Download document: Pastoral Letter