Episcopalians and Mennonites provide support to Hurricane Rita victims
In the wake of Hurricane Rita in the USA, around 100 volunteers a day are working out of Coast Episcopal School in Long Beach, Mississippi, to care for neighbouring communities, says the Episcopal News Service (ENS).
Services offered include a walk-in medical centre and pastoral care. The Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal (Anglican) Church, the Most Rev Frank Griswold, addressed some of them at evening prayer recently..
Meanwhile, the specialist Mennonite Disaster Service also expects to open an unprecedented number of project locations in the Gulf Coast region. Some of the volunteers directing these reconstruction projects will be new to MDS.
The storm hit the US coast at the Texas town of Sabine Pass on the Gulf of Mexico. Although the impact was weaker than had been feared, a 15-foot surge flooded towns in Texas and Louisiana.
Mandatory evacuations of a low-lying area south of Houston at the end of the week had minimised deaths, officials said. It was reported on Wednesday that Rita had killed 11 people, but another 24 died last Friday when a bus caught fire while evacuating patients from a nursing home.
Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) recently named Gerald Klassen as Gulf Coast coordinator for the MDS volunteer response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The decision to hire a full-time coordinator is directly related to the magnitude of disaster. Thousands of evacuees do not have a place to call home.
'The task is huge,' said MDS executive coordinator Kevin King this week. 'We need to focus our resources on getting people out of shelters and back into their homes.'
The Gulf Coast coordinator will be positioned in the region to provide these projects with additional support from the bi-national (US and Canadian) office that oversees Mennonite Disaster Service operations.
'Having someone nearby to walk with our directors may well encourage others, new to MDS, to step up to the plate and give leadership to a project,'' said Klassen.
In New Orleans, Hurricane Rita compounded the effects of Hurricane Katrina on 29 August 2005. Rita's floodwaters breached new holes in already weakened levees, and large areas of the city remain without fresh water, power, and sanitation.
The damage to the area has been estimated at 6 billion US dollars. President Bush, whose administration has been strongly criticised over its response to disasters, travelled to Texas and Louisiana on Tuesday.
He said Rita's victims would be eligible for 2000 US dollars per household in emergency aid, as was offered to the victims of Katrina.
MDS is continuing to accept donations, which so far amount to over 1.3 million dollars in the US, and over 250 ,000 dollars (Cdn) in Canada. These are being used to support the short- and long-term rebuilding and restoring of communities devastated by Katrina and Rita.