Based on reports from Episcopal Relief and Development and the Episcopal Dioceses of Texas and West Texas.
Church teams in both dioceses are providing pastoral care and conducting needs assessments in areas where people lost homes and belongings to the floods, and church facilities are acting as ministry bases for outreach efforts.
Episcopal Relief & Development support will assist affected households with gas, groceries and repair supplies, as well as storage for salvaged belongings and temporary housing for evacuees.
The dioceses of Texas and West Texas were able to convene teams quickly to identify community needs and see how churches can be of unique help,” said Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Senior Vice President for Programs. The swift response is the direct result of these two dioceses’ commitment to disaster preparedness. Support for disaster preparedness, disaster risk reduction, and disaster response management takes a variety of forms through Episcopal Relief & Development, the US and the worldwide church.
“Right now, response planning is focused on low-income households that are uninsured or under-insured, as well as people with disabilities who might need extra assistance as they recover from the storm. Church networks help ensure that vulnerable neighbours are included and cared for.”
The extensive flooding began and worsened over May 24-26, with some areas receiving up to 20 inches of rain. In Texas, 27 people died as a result of the storm, and 10 people were still reported to be missing as of May 31. Thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged, and roads and bridges have been washed out.
One of the most heavily impacted areas was along the Blanco river, which runs through the towns of Wimberley and San Marcos, about halfway between San Antonio and Austin in the Diocese of West Texas. St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wimberley and St. Mark’s in San Marcos have mobilized Flood Response Committees to conduct needs assessments and distribute gift cards for gas, food and emergency supplies.
Wimberley is the town where eight people went missing after the river-front vacation home they were staying in was swept away. Five were members of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Corpus Christi.
In Houston, The Ven. Russ Oechsel, Archdeacon for the Diocese of Texas, led the diocese’s Spiritual and Emotional Care team through the streets of the Meyerland neighbourhood, where there was significant damage to homes. The group of trained lay and ordained volunteers distributed cold water and gift cards for repair supplies, and listened to residents’ storm experiences. They also offered information about how to connect to local and national disaster recovery resources and services.
“I spoke to the former senior warden at Ascension Episcopal Church,” Oechsel said. “He and his brother were helping their father who is in his 80s and has Alzheimer’s.” The man has lived in his home for nearly 60 years and it was completely flooded.
“It’s important that we are present,” Oechsel said. “Our spiritual care team is there to listen to people, to pray with them, assess their needs, offer gift cards, water and chat.”
Oechsel is also Texas’ Diocesan Disaster Coordinator and a member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Partners in Response team, which accompanies churches in disaster-impacted communities as they discern their role in the recovery process. Oechsel and fellow Partners in Response member Deacon Elaine Clements, from the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, are assisting the dioceses of Texas and West Texas at this time.
“We are still very early in the disaster cycle, where folks are ripping out carpet and drywall or just trying to figure out what to do – depending if they own or rent their home, whether they had insurance or not, if they have somewhere close-by where they can stay while they sort things out,” Oechsel said.
“Getting out into the neighborhood to provide pastoral care and gift cards for food and supplies also helps churches connect with people who may need help toward long-term recovery. We will start to know in the coming weeks where those longer-term needs are and how we can help.”
Episcopal Relief & Development has already sent a grant for emergency relief. The Diocese of Texas also sent a donation to the Diocese of West Texas in relief aid for Central Texas and in Acuna, Mexico on the border with the Diocese of West Texas where a tornado killed 17 people over the weekend.
Elsewhere in the region, the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma is responding to two waves of severe storms on May 6 and May 10 that brought tornadoes and flooding to the area.
Texas hopes for a drying out period in the coming days and many consider that the drought the state has suffered for the past several years might not look so bad.
To enable Episcopal Relief & Development to respond to disasters in the United States, please donate to the US Disaster Response Fund.
Photo credit: The Episcopal Diocese of Texas