Churches respond as storms wreak havoc across continents

18 September 2018

Landslide caused by Typhoon Ompong in the Philippines. Image: Episcopal Church of the Philippines

Typhoons and hurricanes have hit the eastern United States, northern Philippines and now Hong Kong and China. As thousands have been evacuated, many have lost their homes and livelihoods. In the midst of the pain and destruction, the Church is there responding.

Super Typhoon Mangkhut hits the Philippines

Typhoon Mangkhut, known locally as Typhoon Ompong, made landfall in the northern Philippines on the evening of 14 September, as a category 5 super typhoon.  The typhoon caused multiple landslides and flooding, roofs were ripped off homes and buildings, and agricultural land was destroyed. Remote areas remain inaccessible. An estimated 4.6 million people live in areas affected by the typhoon. As of 17 September, 192,840 people are sheltering in 1,899 evacuation centres according to national reports. Provincial and municipal authorities are leading disaster response and relief efforts.

The impact on individual lives and livelihoods has been immense. Attorney Floyd Lalwet, Provincial Secretary of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP) and the National Development Officer for E-CARE Foundation, the development arm of ECP, has been in contact with the Anglican Alliance to share news and updates about the typhoon. He provides a heartbreaking account of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Mangkhut: amongst its victims was a family from an episcopalian church in the Philippines. Tragically, six members died and just two children survived and are in hospital. Atty. Floyd writes, “All over Northern Luzon, communities have been severely damaged by the typhoon. Houses and other structures were destroyed and our communities are now doing communal actions to repair and/or rebuild the habitations.”

E-CARE have estimated that about 400 of the communities they accompany (including 100 that do not have an Episcopal church) across four dioceses have been affected by Typhoon Ompong. The initial E-CARE response will be to support the Government relief response, for example by providing information about communities that haven’t yet been reached. ECP churches are praying for those suffering in the aftermath of the typhoon.

“In support of our prayers, we are setting up a fund that will be made available to farmers who need to re-plant and rehabilitate their farmlands. This is where we believe we are most effective at and in complementation with efforts of government and other churches and organizations to enable our people to rise up from the destruction,” says Atty. Floyd. Links to ways of supporting this relief fund are provided below.

Northern Luzon is a productive agricultural area. Since crops have been devastated, rice shortages are expected to be acute and are already driving up prices by up to 50%. E-CARE is already planning to assist with livelihoods recovery by providing rice seeds and planting equipment.

“Farmlands have borne the brunt of the strong wind and rains and crops that are due for harvest at the last quarter are almost completely wiped out,” said Atty. Floyd.

Hurricane Florence hits the east coast of the United States of America

At the same time, Hurricane Florence made landfall on the east coast of the United States of America as a Category 1 storm early on 14 September. Hurricane Florence delivered heavy rain, strong gusts and “catastrophic” flash flooding as it lashed the states of North and South Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center. Wind speeds have now reduced, but the slow speed of Hurricane Florence is causing coastal flooding. In addition, flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding over parts of the Carolinas and the southern and central Appalachians continue to endanger life and keep people from returning to their homes.

From before Hurricane Florence struck, Episcopal Relief & Development has been partnering with dioceses in the impacted area to equip congregational and diocesan leadership with critical tools and resources as they prepare to serve the most vulnerable communities impacted by the storm. The activities include:

  • Holding daily coordination calls with leaders and staff from impacted dioceses to assist them in actively preparing for the possibility of a significant response to Florence
  • Leading online trainings in both English and Spanish to prepare clergy to swiftly assess their communities’ immediate needs and respond effectively
  • Partnering with many impacted dioceses to activate AlertMedia, a cloud-based mass messaging system that was successfully used after Hurricane Harvey and Irma to enable the dioceses to communicate with staff and congregational leaders to share information and assess needs.

“We are heartened to see our church partners join together as they prepare to meet urgent needs in these early days,” said Katie Mears, Senior Director for Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster Program.

In a letter on Sunday, the bishops of the affected dioceses in the Carolinas said, “We thank you for your prayers before, during and after Hurricane Florence. Our region has suffered considerable damage, and the path of the storm has affected all of our dioceses in varying ways. Our hearts go out to those who are suffering and to the grieving families who have lost loved ones.

“We are assessing the damage to our communities, which as you will know from news reports, vary widely. Conditions will continue to change for days due to rising rivers. For the present, we ask you not to send goods or travel to this region to help. The infrastructure in many places cannot support those who are here, let alone others. In the hardest hit places, there is a shortage of accommodation. Gas, food and water are in short supply. And with downed power lines in many places and curfews remaining in force, it is not safe.”

Typhoon Mangkhut tracks to Hong Kong and southern China

On 16 September, Typhoon Mangkhut struck Hong Kong and the Guangdong province of China as a tropical storm, with winds of up 160km/hour and storm surges of three metres.

In Hong Kong, high winds tore roofs off buildings, while heavy rain caused flooding. At least 213 people have been injured, most of them suffering minor injuries.

Up to 2.4 million people were reportedly evacuated from Guangdong. Schools have closed until 18 September, flights and trains have been cancelled, and ports, oil refineries and industrial plants shut. Many rivers are flowing higher than normal due to record-high rainfall in Guangdong Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. As of 17 September, 951,000 people have been relocated in Guangdong Province, and four deaths have been confirmed.

Disaster preparedness and accompaniment

Disaster preparedness is an important activity that churches can engage in with their communities to plan and prepare for an emergency. Episcopal Relief & Development has been leading this work in the US for many years. “Many of the communities in Florence’s path were impacted by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and the recovery process from that storm continues”, reports Episcopal Relief & Development. “One of the lessons from Matthew was the devastating impact that these storms can have on particularly vulnerable communities where at-risk populations can lose not only their homes but their sources of income as well. We are collaborating with affected dioceses in East Carolina and North Carolina as they begin planning how to help those most in need. Together, the US Disaster team and diocesan leaders are assessing how to support these communities with critical supplies including food and clean water”.

This work links closely to ‘Partners in Response and Resilience’, an accompaniment programme that enables church leaders who have experienced a disaster to support another church when they go through a similar situation. In the US this process, known as ‘surge capacity’ is well established and much appreciated. Partners within the Anglican Alliance are now piloting this approach in the Pacific region and East Africa.

How to respond:


Please continue to pray for those impacted by Super Typhoon Mangkhut (Ompong) and Hurricane Florence.

Prayer for emergencies

O God, our refuge and strength, our help in times of trouble.

Have mercy on the lands where the earth has given way. Have mercy on the lands where the weather has destroyed livelihoods. Prosper those who rebuild houses, and strengthen those who rebuild hope so that entire communities may face the future without fear. Amen.

Prayer for those affected by floods

Compassionate God, source of all comfort, we pray for the people whose lives have been devastated by rain and flood. Bring them comfort, we pray. Protect the vulnerable.

Strengthen the weak. Keep at bay the spread of disease. Have mercy on all those working to rescue the stranded and to feed the hungry. And may our response to their suffering be generous and bring you praise. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Credit: Christian Aid


As well as local church responses, Anglican agencies are supporting the work of the local church through the following appeals:

Super Typhoon Mangkhut

Anglican Board of Mission

Episcopal Relief & Development international disaster response

Christian Aid

Hurricane Florence

Episcopal Relief & Development  hurricane relief