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Update: Pope conveys ‘heartfelt solidarity,’ prayers for tornado victims

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters


MOBILE, Ala. (CNS) — As of March 6, the number of lives lost in Alabama during a violent tornado that swept through the central part of the state remained at 23, and USA Today reported that anonymous donors have now offered to pay for their funerals. The victims ranged in age from 6 to 89.

Sheriff Jay Jones in Lee County, where the tornado hit ground in the town of Beauregard, said that the number of those unaccounted for had been reduced to a handful. About 50 people were injured.

After the tornado whipped through Alabama and other parts of the South March 3, Mobile Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi asked for prayers for "those who lost their lives and their loved ones as well as those who have lost homes and businesses."

"The catastrophic tornadoes which occurred yesterday in the Archdiocese of Mobile have brought loss of life and devastating damage," said the archbishop in a March 4 statement.

He added that as recovery efforts were beginning, Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Mobile reached out to the pastors of the affected areas to offer assistance for those in need.

In a telegram to Archbishop Rodi, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said March 3 that Pope Francis was "deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life and the injuries caused by the tornado" and expressed his "heartfelt solidarity with all affected by this natural disaster."

"He prays that Almighty God may grant eternal rest to the dead, especially the children, and healing and consolation to the injured and those who grieve," the cardinal said, adding that the pope invoked "the Lord’s blessings of peace and strength."

The National Weather Service’s Chris Darden said the tornado that hit Lee County clocked in at 170 mph. It created a swath a mile wide and 70 miles long.

President Donald Trump has approved disaster funds for the area and plans to visit tornado victims.

The tornado that ravaged Lee County was one of 18 that struck Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

"It’s extremely upsetting to me to see these people hurting like this and the families who have lost loved ones," the sheriff said in a Weather Channel report. "This is a very tightknit community. These people are tough. They’re resilient people, and it’s knocked them down. But they’ll be back."

He described the devastation as shocking, adding: "It looks almost as if someone took a giant knife and just scraped the ground. There are slabs where homes formerly stood, debris everywhere, trees snapped, whole forested areas where trees are snapped and lying on the ground."

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