[Episcopal Relief & Development] Episcopal Relief & Development is assisting local partners in the southeastern United States and the Caribbean as they respond to damage and other challenges caused by Hurricane Isaac. Isaac swept over Haiti and the Dominican Republic as a tropical storm on August 24 and 25 before gathering strength and hitting the US Gulf Coast as a hurricane on August 28. At least 41 people died as a result of the storm, including five in the Dominican Republic, 21 in Haiti and seven in the United States. Damage is estimated at approximately $2 billion.
While many communities are still in the assessment phase following the impact of the storm, Episcopal Relief & Development has received reports from partners in the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti and the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana about their current and planned activities.
In Haiti, heavy rains and strong winds caused severe damage to schools, churches and homes. People living in provisional homes and tent camps established after the 2010 earthquake were among the most vulnerable. The storm also destroyed cash crops such as bananas, avocados, mangoes and sugar cane, which many Haitians rely on for income.
As local staff followed evolving information about the course and strength of the storm, water supplies were positioned for distribution through churches in 11 communities, and other funds were reserved to support recovery work. Currently, Episcopal Relief & Development is providing assistance to the diocese as it replaces roofing, reinforces damaged fences and walls, and cleans up debris in nine locations, including six schools. Repairs are being prioritized according to assessment information provided by local clergy in the Port-au-Prince area and southeastern departments.
In the United States, heavy rain and flooding impacted communities along the Gulf Coast. The impact was especially severe in Louisiana, where local families and businesses are still recovering from hurricanes Katrina and Gustav and the 2010 oil spill. According to Deacon Elaine Clements, the Diocesan Disaster Coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, Hurricane Isaac stalled over the southern part of the state and dropped as much as 20 inches of rain in some areas. Flooded rivers and creeks prompted emergency evacuations, and power outages were widespread throughout the region.
Families who were left without electricity for longer periods – some up to a week – lost food in their refrigerators and freezers, and many businesses and workplaces were closed during and after the storm, causing a loss of income for hourly workers. Due to the expense and scarcity of hotels and other shelters in rural areas, many people with damaged homes have evacuated to live with friends or relatives. However, long commutes and high gasoline prices are introducing other challenges.
In response, the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana and its outreach arm, Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana (ECS), are working with Episcopal Relief & Development to provide food vouchers, gas cards, school supplies, medical care and other assistance to families who were affected by the storm. The existing relationships parishes have with food banks and other community organizations are enabling staff to quickly mobilize local resources to serve the most vulnerable members of impacted communities.
In particular, St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans has a mobile medical van that currently serves various locations in Orleans, St. Bernard and Jefferson Parishes, and can be deployed to the towns of LaPlace and Jean Lafitte. Relying on long-standing relationships with Tulane University Hospital and area medical providers, this mobile unit will be able to provide care to those in need.
“The Diocese of Louisiana, unfortunately, has become very experienced with assessing and responding to community needs following disasters over the years,” said Katie Mears, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Program Manager for US Disaster Preparedness and Response. “The ministries that take place in congregations around the diocese are able to assess needs among vulnerable people, and we are glad that Episcopal Relief & Development and Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana are there to help meet some of those identified needs.”