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Pope Francis tweets his prayers following devastation in Moore

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pope Francis took to Twitter on Tuesday to send his sympathies to the victims of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado and to ask the faithful to join him in prayer. The twister is believed to have killed 24 people, down from an overnight estimate of 51.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (Catholic Online) - In one of his first tweets, Pope Francis has called for prayers the people of Oklahoma. "I am close to the families of all who died in the Oklahoma tornado, especially those who lost young children. Join me in praying for them," Pope Francis tweeted to his 2.5 million followers.

"Let us pray for the victims -- at least 50 of them -- and the missing, especially the children, struck by the violent tornado that hit Oklahoma City yesterday. Hear us, O Lord," Pope Francis later said during his prayers of the faithful.

The prayers are working, as the death toll from Monday's disaster in Moore, Oklahoma has been lowered from 52 to 24. Authorities believe the earlier death toll, which at one time was as high as 91, may have double counted some casualties.

However, the situation remains grim, especially at the Plaza Towers Elementary School, which suffered a direct hit and most of the reported casualties. Area hospitals report an additional 240 people have been injured and were being treated in area hospitals.

At this time, the number of children versus adults deceased in the disaster remains in flux, although initial estimates suggest that at least twenty of the 24 lost are children.

The tornado destroyed hundreds of homes and hundreds of animals from family pets to horses and livestock were killed in the disaster. Eyewitnesses say they saw animals as well as cars in flight during the tornado.

President Obama has declared Oklahoma to be a major disaster area following the devastation in Moore and in other parts of Oklahoma where tornadoes touched down yesterday.

The people of Moore spent much of their day keeping an eye on the sky as warnings and the National Weather Service called watches. It became apparent early in the day that the region would experience widespread severe weather.

At 2:40 p.m. CDT, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the town. A Tornado warning means a tornado is probably imminent as spotters on the ground have observed a funnel and radar operators are spotting a distinctive radar signature of tornado formation.

At 2:52, radar clearly indicated that a tornado was approaching the ground.

At 2:56, spotters confirmed reports of a tornado on the ground.

At 3:01 a Tornado Emergency was issued for Moore. A Tornado Emergency is a warning that means widespread damage and fatalities are expected and may continue. These warnings are normally issued if a powerful tornado touches down in a heavily populated area.

Local weather services told residents to get underground or into shelter, or else they would die.

Forty-five minutes after it started, the tornado dissipated at 3:36 p.m.

It became immediately apparent that the tornado had tracked across two schools, destroying both, as well as a number of homes. Vehicles and downed signs were peppered with holes, looking as though they were sprayed with machine gun fire, this is what makes tornadoes so deadly, the swirling debris that can penetrate metal.

In the schools, teachers moved students into hallways and bathrooms where it was hoped they would enjoy the greatest safety. Teachers used their bodies to shield students. Children say they were told to hug the walls as the twister began consuming the structures around them.

In the immediate aftermath, and for hours afterwards, dozens of victims lay buried under rubble and debris. At Plaza Towers Elementary School, nearly two dozen children were dead following the collapse of the building they used for refuge. Another seven in that school were found drowned after a broken water pipe flooded the space they used for shelter.

As parents walked for miles to seek their children at the school, they were met by police who barricaded the area and barred access. Horrified parents could only watch as rescue workers sifted through the rubble, trying to listen for any children calling for help.

Until 6:30 p.m., rescuers reported hearing the cries of survivors, but then those cries stopped. No child has been pulled alive from the rubble since late yesterday afternoon.

Tearful parents gathered near a Catholic church as a volunteer read off the names of those children who were found with a megaphone. Most children have since been reunited with their parents.

Across the area, at least 8,000 residents are without power and those in the path of the tornado are seeking shelter and basic necessities. The National Guard has arrived to assist with recovery and relief efforts.

The tornado has been rated as an EF4 on the Fujita scale. Initial estimates suggested the tornado was an EF5, with a two-mile wide base and winds of up to 300 miles per hour. This has been revised to a more accurate estimate of a quarter-mile base and winds around 200 MPH.

As for now, the region is overcast and thunderstorms are predicted for later.

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