Gulf Coast Catholics prepare for Hurricane Isaac impact

By Michelle Bauman

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Satelite map of Hurricane Isaac in the Gulf of Mexico August 28, 2012. Credit: NOAA

As the U.S. Gulf Coast braces itself for Hurricane Isaac to make landfall, the Catholic community is preparing to offer aid to survivors in the wake of the storm.

John Wilson, who heads disaster preparation and response efforts for the Archdiocese of Mobile, said the archdiocese is taking a “proactive posture.”

“In this phase, we are essentially on standby,” he told EWTN News on Aug. 27.

He explained that it is “still difficult to tell how much rain and how much wind we’re going to get,” so efforts are focused on preparing parishes and archdiocesan facilities for the storm and getting ready to offer whatever type of aid is necessary in its aftermath.

Wilson has been working to keep archdiocesan staff and administration informed about weather conditions and official reports.

In addition, he said, the archdiocese has been “communicating with sister dioceses” to determine what levels of resources are available, in order to “share the burden” depending on the need after the storm hits.

Seven years after the Gulf Coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, which came ashore as a strong Category 3 storm, the region is preparing for Hurricane Isaac, which could bring up to 36 straight hours of heavy winds and rain.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina and the resulting floods left more than 1,800 dead and caused an estimated $81 billion in damage. While Hurricane Isaac is significantly weaker, it could still result in serious water and wind damages when it hits the U.S. as early as Tuesday evening.

In recent days, Tropical Storm Isaac swept through the Caribbean, killing at least 24 people before moving towards the Gulf Coast and strengthening into a Category 1 hurricane on the afternoon of Aug. 28.

In Haiti, the storm damaged infrastructure and caused flooding in a nation still struggling to rebuild after a severe earthquake in 2010.

Catholic Relief Services, the overseas relief agency of the U.S. bishops, sent out 4,000 text messages to over 1,000 households in Port-au-Prince before the storm hit, offering evacuation instructions and safety tips.  
 
The agency is now working with local partners and the Haitian government to assess the damage and respond to the needs of the people.

Along the U.S. Gulf Coast, communities are now bracing for the hurricane to hit, with thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama under mandatory evacuation orders.

Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said that the organization has “been in constant communication with our agencies in the Gulf Coast” and is “ready to meet the needs of those who will be most affected by this storm.”

He explained that both “experience and investment” have made relief efforts “more effective and better prepared” than they were in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Nancy Loftus, a Catholic Charities case manager for the Diocese of Biloxi, said that Vietnamese and Hispanic translators are already working to make sure that important information gets out to the immigrant population in the area.

The agency is prepared to offer “basic relief items” such as food, water and infant supplies, she said, and the diocese will also be partnering with Red Cross to provide additional items, warehouse space and equipment as necessary.

Margaret Dubuisson, director of communications for Catholic Charities of New Orleans, said that efforts are currently being made in the archdiocese to ensure that clients in residential programs are taken care of, especially “medically fragile” children and senior citizens.

As in other dioceses in the Gulf Coast, New Orleans is preparing itself and waiting to see the level of damage that the storm will bring, she explained.

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond is “very, very hands-on in situations like this,” she added, noting that he plans to visit local emergency operation centers to see what the needs are.

Archbishop Aymond posted an Aug. 27 prayer on Facebook asking for safety during the upcoming storm.

“Lord, united with Mary, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, protect us and all those on the Gulf Coast as Isaac approaches,” he wrote.

Dubuisson said the archdiocese is preparing for wind and water damage, as well as possible power outages.

After the storm, it will be a matter of “picking up the pieces” and offering “whatever assistance we can,” she explained.

“We’re ready,” she said. “We’ve been through this before.”

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