Communities and churches act over Hurricane Gustav

By staff writers
September 1, 2008

Church and community groups across the USA are preparing to assist those who may be displaced by Hurricane Gustav, as it heads towards the city that was torn apart under the strain of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Agencies reported that the storm was on its way on Sunday 31 August 2008 toward New Orleans, weaker than when it swept over Cuba - where it caused much destruction - but still expected to deliver a nasty blow to the city devastated just three years ago.

In Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, 86 people were killed as Gustav passed through the Caribbean, but in Cuba, where evacuations are highly organized, early and enforced, no deaths had been reported. However, Cubans have lost thousands of houses and power lines and are expecting further heavy rains.

Along the coast, a storm surge that reached 20 feet in places swamped small towns and inland the fierce storm toppled trees, twisted high tension electric towers to the ground, blew away roofs and knocked over small banana plantations and coconut groves.

In Los Palacios on the mainland, a few miles from Paso Quemado, streets were lined with debris as people swept water from their homes and picked up the tree branches, broken glass and roof tiles that littered their yards.

But one New Orleans resident, Briton Alan Pond, says that the threat is being exaggerated by the media and that having studied the meteorological data he is staying put in his house - though he says Mayor Nagin had "no alternative" but to tell people to get out of the city as soon as possible. "He's damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't."

Pond declared: "It has been evident [for some hours] than the storm is getting weaker... certainly no stronger than Katrina. It was the levees breaking that caused the devastation, remember."

Meanwhile, relief and development agencies are mobilising to follow up the emergency services - which are already some 24 to 36 hours earlier in responding around New Orleans than they were during the Katrina crisis. Then President Bush and the US authorities were accused of negligence and slowness.

Catholic Charities USA's Disaster Response Team, which deployed to the Gulf Coast on Friday 29 August, continues its disaster recovery preparations, including working with the local Catholic Charities agencies in the region to preposition community resources sites.

After the storm, these sites will provide water, basic food essentials, clean up supplies, personal care kits, and other items to meet the communities' recovery needs.

In addition, teams will be deployed into the affected areas to make damage assessments and identify unmet needs in the communities. These assessments will help Catholic Charities determine how best to tailor their response efforts in the days, weeks, and months to come.

"Using our experience from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we stand ready to respond to Gustav with speed, reliability, and a long-term commitment to helping the impacted region recover," said Kim Burgo, senior director of disaster response for Catholic Charities USA.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.