WASHINGTON — As much of the East Coast braced for Hurricane Sandy, the Church helped local people prepare for the storm, reaching out to offer shelter to the homeless and organizing disaster-response efforts.
“Since Hurricane Katrina, we have focused on being prepared for future disasters,” Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said in an Oct. 27 statement.
“Not only are we early responders, but our presence in the community also puts us in a position to be able to quickly assess and provide support in the long term,” he added.
As the massive storm started to hit New England on Oct. 29, its potential to cause damage and take lives was increased by its collision course with an arctic blast from the north. Experts are predicting up to $1 billion in damage from the storm.
Catholic Charities USA worked with its local agencies in the days before the hurricane in order “to ensure they have provisions in place to provide for any possible needs the hurricane may create in their communities,” the group said. Local agencies along the East Coast will be able to provide disaster relief and recovery services after the storm, including food, shelter, counseling and financial support.
The national office said that one of the toughest parts of preparing for the storm was the uncertainty about what its impact will be in different areas.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make is taking these types of weather warnings lightly,” said Samuel Chambers, senior vice president of disaster operations for Catholic Charities USA.
He observed that the National Weather Service has indicated that areas of the East Coast, from New York down to Florida, will feel some impact from the massive storm.
Catholic Charities USA encouraged people in Hurricane Sandy’s path to make sure that they charge their electronic devices and have cash on hand, as well as to assemble an emergency kit in case evacuation becomes necessary, along with bottled water and emergency supplies to last for several days.
The organization also offered updates in the days leading up to the storm, posting links on Twitter with information on how to prepare for the hurricane and a disaster hotline number.
Local agencies also spent the weekend preparing for Hurricane Sandy, organizing disaster-response efforts and spreading information on how to remain safe.
Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Camden, N.J., assembled an incident command team on Oct. 28 to help ensure that the hurricane response and recovery would run smoothly.
The agency explained in a Facebook post that it had filled the positions of incident commander, safety officer and liaison officer and was dividing its disaster response and recovery efforts into distinct categories of finance and administration, planning, logistics and operations.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington announced that its homeless shelters would remain open from Oct. 29 until 7am on Nov. 1 “so all residents can stay inside during the inclement weather.”
The agency tweeted that it had 922 people in three of its emergency shelters on the night of Oct. 28. It also posted a shelter hotline number on Twitter, encouraging readers to “please call if you see someone on the street who needs to get in out of the storm.”
In addition, Church leaders voiced support and encouraged prayers for all of those in the region that is threatened by the hurricane.
“Pray for all those impacted by Hurricane Sandy,” tweeted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Oct. 29.
Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas also used Twitter to call for prayers “for all affected by Hurricane Sandy, including those stranded in its path from the Diocese of Dallas.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia urged prayers “for all those persons injured or forced to leave their homes because of this extraordinary weather disaster.”
In an Oct. 29 statement, the archbishop noted that the storm comes amid election-year discussions of the “important but carefully limited role” of government according to Catholic thought, which places a special emphasis on “local accountability and ensuring public safety.”
He praised Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, as well as others in the tri-state area, for responding “quickly and vigorously” so far.
These officials are “serving their people where it matters most — at the local and state levels, where the ‘common good’ has flesh and blood meaning,” he said, offering “the gratitude of the whole Catholic community” to these officials and the region’s emergency responders.
Archbishop Chaput explained that the archdiocese’s Catholic Human Services would work to provide shelter during the storm.
Added the archbishop, “While we do not have active disaster relief in place during the storm, we will cooperate fully with the Red Cross and government agencies to provide food, alternate shelter and financial relief as needed after the storm.”