The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team has deployed to the East Texas city of Onalaska, where three people were killed and more than 30 others were injured after a tornado ripped through the community Wednesday evening.
The National Weather Service said that Onalaska, located about 75 miles northeast of Houston in Polk County, experienced winds of up to 140 mph.
Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association as well as Samaritan’s Purse, announced that staff from both organizations would be on the ground Thursday to address the physical and spiritual needs of those affected by the twister.
“So much can change in the matter of a few seconds as these tornadoes touch down,” he posted on Facebook. “Join us in praying for all of those facing devastating loss.”
“We have crisis-trained chaplains in Onalaska, Texas, prepared to minister the love and hope of Jesus Christ with those who have recently been impacted by the devastation of the recent tornados,” Josh Holland, RRT assistant director, told Decision.
This deployment is the second in as many weeks due to destructive weather throughout the South. After an intense storm system killed 36 people during Easter weekend, Billy Graham chaplains rushed to minister to communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and South Carolina.
“In the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, this spring has also been a particularly destructive tornado season for many of the southern states,” Holland said.
Onalaska officials say that between the coronavirus and the tornado, the city’s resources are spread thin.
In an update on Thursday, Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy said that she expects COVID-19 cases numbers to go up as a result of the disaster.
“Up to this point, Polk County has done a really good job of sheltering at home,” Murphy said. “We’ve managed to keep our number low, but this type of event is more than likely going to create an increase in our numbers, just by virtue of the amount of contact that happens.”
Above: Loretta Moehle takes a break on the steps of a friend’s house, Thursday, April 23, 2020, a day after a tornado ripped through Onalaska, Texas.
Photo: Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP