By Rhina Guidos, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Catholic dioceses, including the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and charities are quickly organizing to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall with heavy rains and winds of 130 miles per hour late Aug. 25 northeast of Corpus Christi, Texas.
The National Weather Service said in a tweet Aug. 27 that the rainfall expected after the hurricane and storm are over “are beyond anything experienced before.”
The hurricane, named Harvey, is said to be the strongest one to hit the United States in more than a decade and perhaps the strongest one to make landfall in Texas.
Abp. Aymond: We must help
In addition to asking for prayers for those who had died in the floodwaters or suffered the loss of their homes, New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond asked local Catholics to send financial donations directly to him (see Archbishop Aymond’s letter), which he will forward to the bishops whose dioceses have been most affected.
“Please pray daily for those who have died and those who have lost homes and property,” Archbishop Aymond said. “May God give them hope and perseverance in this time of need.”
Catholic Charities USA, as well as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Disaster Services, announced early on Aug. 26 that they are mobilizing to help an as-yet-unknown number of persons affected by the hurricane. The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops has a list of charities helping with the disaster listed on its website at https://txcatholic.org/harvey.
Authorities reported at least five casualties as of Aug. 27, but because of safety issues, not many emergency teams have been yet able to respond to the aftermath and much of the damage is unknown. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared the state a disaster area, which will allow federal money to help in reconstruction. Catholic groups said they want to help with the immediate needs of the communities affected.
“We will be sending in rapid-response teams to help our impacted St. Vincent de Paul councils, and we are coordinating nationally with the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Malta and (Catholic Charities USA),” said Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA.
Mobile Response Center
Marianite Sister Marjorie Hebert, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, said Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) was planning a conference call with Catholic Charities agencies in Texas to assess the most pressing emergency needs.
After that meeting, Sister Marjorie said, “it’s not unusual that CCUSA will send out some other kind of appeal,” to which the archdiocese will respond.
Sister Marjorie said CCUSA will mobilize for the first time a mobile response center (MRC), which was a gift from the Ford Motor Company to CCUSA on Aug. 22.
“It’s a brand new mobile response center,” Sister Marjorie said. “The issue now is there is so much uncertainty as to what will be needed and where.”
The MRC is designed to be a base for relief and communications after a natural disaster. It is used by Catholic Charities member agencies in Washington, D.C., Arlington/Northern Virginia and Baltimore to serve people who are homeless, homebound, and without ready access to Catholic Charities facilities.
“In the hands of the skilled, caring team at Catholic Charities, this vehicle will deliver faster relief in emergencies and more effective, long-term assistance to people who need it most,” Ziad Ojakli, Ford group vice president, Government and Community Relations, said when the unit was presented.
Cardinal asks for assistance
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, on Aug. 27 urged “all people of goodwill to closely monitor future calls for assistance for victims and survivors in the days ahead.”
The cardinal also is the head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, one of the hardest-hit areas.
“Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in a catastrophic and devastating way this weekend, bringing with it severe flooding and high winds which have taken human life, caused countless injuries, and severely damaged homes and property throughout the region,” said the cardinal in an Aug. 27 news release. “The effects of this storm continue to put people in harm’s way, with horrific scenes playing out all around, such as those of people trapped on their rooftops as water continues to rise around them. Many dioceses of the church in the United States have been affected; many others will be as the storm continues.”
He asked for prayers but also for assistance for those affected. One of the first to pledge help was the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, where Bishop Daniel E. Flores authorized a second collection to be taken up at the diocese’s local churches on the weekend of Aug. 26-27 to send to Catholic Charities in nearby Corpus Christi and “other places hardest hit by loss of power, storm damage, flooding.”
It’s been hard to communicate with other areas, said Bishop Flores in an Aug. 26 interview with Catholic News Service, so it’s hard to gauge the extent of the damage. But he said his diocese wanted to get a head start to quickly divert help where it is needed and as fast as possible.
If the Rio Grande Valley, where Bishop Flores’ diocese is located, was spared the major impact of Hurricane Harvey, then the diocese had a duty to help their neighbors to the north, in the coastal areas of Corpus Christi and Galveston-Houston, which seemed to be hit hardest, he said. Hurricane Harvey seemed to enter near Corpus Christi and affected seven coastal counties in Texas and one Louisiana parish.
“We continue to pray for everyone affected by the hurricane and those who are at risk as the storms continue,” said Bishop Flores in a statement.
Though the brunt of the hurricane’s winds has passed and Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm hours after landfall, heavy rains and “catastrophic flooding” are expected for days, said the National Hurricane Center.
“We have to remember … the families affected by flood damage in the next few days in other parts of the state will be in need of relief,” said Bishop Flores. “We will assess better how we can help as we get further information about the needs from the (Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops) and Catholic Charities.”
New Orleans outreach
Other relief efforts in the Archdiocese of New Orleans include:
- Second Harvest Food Bank: Collecting monetary donations as well as non-perishable food items, especially “pop-top” canned goods that do not require can-openers, water, MREs that are still in-date, cleaning supplies such as bleach, gloves and garbage bags, and other disaster-specific items. For more information and specifics about where to drop-off items in the NOLA area and beyond, go to http://no-hunger.org/hurricane-harvey-can-help/
- Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans: Referring donors to the Catholic Charities USA site for coordinated relief and recovery efforts. Go to https://app.mobilecause.com/vf/CCUSADISASTER for more information about how to make a gift and updates on the recovery efforts.
- Parish-based support: St. Catherine of Siena Parish, 105 Bonnabel Blvd., Metairie; St. Jane de Chantal Parish, 72040 Maple St., Abita Springs; and Mary Queen of Peace Parish, 1501 W. Causeway Approach, Mandeville, will be collecting needed supplies in bulk packages (from Sam’s, Costco, Walmart).
St. Catherine will accept bulk items at the church between 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sept. 5-7.
St. Jane de Chantal will be accepting supplies through Sept. 7.
Mary Queen of Peace will accept supplies at the Parish Center, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m.; and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.
Items needed are cases of bottled water, Powerade, Gatorade; baby items (diapers, wipes, powder); non-perishable dry goods and canned goods; bleach, Lysol, Clorox wipes; mops, brooms, buckets; contractor bags, gloves, surgical masks; soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, razors, floss, feminine products, deodorant; paper towels, tissue, toilet paper; dog and cat food; flash lights and batteries; new pillows, sheets, towels and air mattresses; tarps; duct tape; plastic storage bins; folding chairs; boxes and tape.
The parishes ask that donors do not bring clothes, books or toys.
Check nolacatholic.org for the latest information on relief efforts by the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
In an Aug. 26 statement published by the Galveston-Houston archdiocese, Cardinal DiNardo said powerful winds and heavy rainfall have already impacted many lives and homes throughout the region, and many in the southern counties of his archdiocese have already suffered substantial property damage and losses.
Peter Finney Jr. contributed to this report.