Hurricane Harvey: long road to recovery begins

31 August 2017

Flood waters still cover large parts of Texas and Louisiana. Credit: Tara Quick, Episcopal Relief & Development

For the past few days people around the Communion have watched in horror as the southern US states of Texas and Louisiana have been devastated by Hurricane Harvey and the torrential rains and floods which followed. At the same time that we pray for communities in Bangladesh, India and Nepal also facing flooding of historic proportions, the Communion has also responded to this latest disaster with prayer and concern.

At least 33 people have been killed in eastern Texas since Hurricane Harvey hit on 25 August, followed by record levels of up to 50in of rainfall.

Although the storm has now been downgraded, heavy rainfall is expected from Louisiana to Kentucky over the coming days. Flood warnings remain in place for parts of Texas and neighbouring Louisiana.

Large areas of Houston, the fourth largest city in the US, are still under flood waters. It is reported that more than 32,000 people are finding refuge in emergency shelters, while rescue efforts continue to find survivors and recover bodies.

Bishop of Texas Andy Doyle wrote yesterday: “Our prayers are for those who wait and watch and weep today for loss of life, home and livelihood. We pray for those who are in the midst of the storm and who await rescue and relief. In the meantime those who are able are helping those who are dependent upon the kindness of others. One of the most heartening things about this horrific weather event is witnessing neighbors helping neighbors in both small and enormous ways.”

Dr Rob Radtke, President of Episcopal Relief and Development, wrote in a blog: “For those of us observing and praying from afar, it’s important to remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint. In addition, the tricky part is responding in a way that is timely and appropriate. Understanding the phases of a disaster can be useful in determining how you can help.”

Rob Radtke helpfully outlined the best ways for others to offer help, describing the three distinct, if sometimes overlapping, phases: Rescue, Relief and Recovery.

He makes the point that in the US there are emergency services best placed with training and equipment for the Rescue phase.

In the Relief phase the churches have a key role. “During this phase, the local church will be one of the first places people go to seek assistance and shelter. Because they are prepared and experienced in disaster response, we know that our partners in Texas and elsewhere will be active in the Relief phase,” Rob explained.

In the Recovery phase, Rob wrote, “It is a chronic state, not a crisis. However, it is the phase in which the Church excels, because we are part of the communities that have been impacted and can best identify needs and work with the community to address them efficiently.”

Episcopal Relief & Development advises that now is the time to offer financial support. Contributing to Episcopal Relief & Development will ensure that they have enough resources to support the work of church partners as they serve the most vulnerable in their communities.  They are best positioned to assess needs and timing for response efforts.

Well-wishers are advised not to send clothes, food and other goods as the church staff have limited capacity to receive, store and distribute donated goods. The Episcopal Relief & Development team explain why cash funds can be used much more effectively. You can donate following this link.

Within the US, those who are keen to offer time and skills can register with Episcopal Relief & Development’s Ready to Serve database to learn if there are any future needs for volunteers.

Emergency funds have already been sent to the dioceses – and with their work on disaster preparedness, the affected dioceses are already active in their response. Writing on the Texas diocesan website, Bishop Doyle describes how spiritual care teams are already active.

The Ven. Russ Oechsel, archdeacon and diocesan disaster relief coordinator, has already been visiting flood victims, including people in an evacuation centre. “They were scared,” he said. “We prayed with them and were glad to see they had received clothing. They felt safe and were super pleased we were there.”

In another parish, Bishop Doyle recounts how members of the church have linked with local Muslims. A local interfaith group had become involved in the flood response, for example, when a Muslim man responded to a deacon’s request for transport assistance for a vulnerable person.

The Diocese of Texas has also highlighted available resources for post-disaster ministry, as well as prayers and liturgy and a children’s story and activity book reflecting on the experience of storms and recovery.

Bishop of Louisiana Morris K. Thompson, Jr. has written on his website: “We are people of faith and prayer. Pray for the strength of our neighbors to meet the days ahead. When the storm passes the reminder will be with them for months and years to come. Be steadfast in your prayers for the long haul.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church has spoken about the tragedy: “Together we are the human family of God and our efforts in times like these truly help bring God’s love and ours to our sisters and brothers in great need.”

Revd Rachel Carnegie, Co-Executive Director of the Anglican Alliance, said: “The Anglican Alliance has been monitoring the situation closely. Episcopal Relief & Development has given important advice on how churches and individuals can support the Church and people in Texas through prayerful solidarity as the crisis unfolds, as well as practical support for the process of relief, recovery and rehabilitation. We hold this situation in our prayers and will be seeking to learn from the churches’ experiences.”