Catholic dioceses and charities are quickly organizing to help in the aftermath of a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall with winds of 130 miles per hour late on Aug. 25 into the Rockport, Texas area, northeast of Corpus Christi.
The hurricane, named Harvey, is said to be the strongest one to hit the United States in more than a decade and perhaps the strongest one to make landfall in Texas.
Catholic Charities USA, as well as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Disaster Services, announced early on Aug. 26 that they're mobilizing to help an as-yet-unknown number of persons affected by the hurricane. The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops has a list of charities helping with the disaster listed on its website at txcatholic.org/harvey
Because of safety issues, not many emergency teams have been yet able to respond to the aftermath. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared the state a disaster area, which will allow federal money to help in reconstruction. Catholic groups said they want to help with the immediate needs of the communities affected.
"We will be sending in rapid-response teams to help our impacted St. Vincent de Paul councils and we are coordinating nationally with the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Malta and (Catholic Charities USA)," said Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA.
In the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, Bishop Daniel E. Flores authorized a second collection to be taken up at the Diocese's local churches on the weekend of Aug. 26-27 to send to Catholic Charities in nearby Corpus Christi and "other places hardest hit by loss of power, storm damage, flooding."
It's been hard to communicate with other areas, said Bishop Flores in an Aug. 26 interview with Catholic News Service, so it's hard to gauge the extent of the damage. But he said his Diocese wanted to get a head start to quickly divert help where it is needed and as fast as possible.
If the Rio Grande Valley, where Bishop Flores' Diocese is located, was spared the major impact of Hurricane Harvey, then the Diocese had a duty to help their neighbors to the north, in the coastal areas of Corpus Christi and Galveston-Houston, which seemed to be hit hardest, he said. Hurricane Harvey seemed to enter near Corpus Christi and affected seven coastal counties in Texas and one Louisiana parish.
"We continue to pray for every for everyone affected by the hurricane and those who are at risk as the storms continue," said Bishop Flores in a statement.
Though the brunt of the hurricane's winds has passed and Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm hours after landfall, heavy rains and "catastrophic flooding" are expected for days, said the National Hurricane Center.
"We have to remember … the families affected by flood damage in the next few days in other parts of the state will be in need of relief," said Bishop Flores. "We will assess better how we can help as we get further information about the needs from the (Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops) and Catholic Charities."
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is the head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, an area declared in a state of disaster.
In an Aug. 26 statement published by the Archdiocese, he asked for prayers "for all of those affected by the storm and in need of assistance during this natural disaster."
Powerful winds and heavy rainfall have impacted many lives and homes throughout Galveston-Houston, said the cardinal, and many in the southern counties of his archdiocese have already suffered substantial property damage and losses.
Many homes in these communities are currently without power. “Several forecasts anticipate additional storm damage and flooding in the coming days, along with high winds and tornado activity," Cardinal DiNardo said.
Up to 250,000 have been reported without power in Texas, a number that's expected to rise.
San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said in a statement that the Archdiocese pledged its support to recovery efforts that will start after the rain and wind subside.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the people of the dioceses of Corpus Christi and Victoria, as well as the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, as they cope with the damaging effects of Hurricane Harvey," he said. "The people of San Antonio have opened their arms to welcome evacuees of this historic hurricane, and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese has been assisting and will continue to assist in a variety of ways those impacted by this natural disaster."
Bishop W. Michael Mulvey, of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, said he was grateful to the bishops who reached out to him and to his Diocese. He said the true damage throughout the Diocese still is not known, and officials are waiting for conditions that will allow a better assessment of the damage.
In his statement, Cardinal DiNardo asked for prayers for emergency personnel and volunteers who are out and about in dangerous conditions and also "for those residing in our Archdiocese, in Texas and along the Gulf Coast, be safe, and may God have mercy on those affected by Hurricane Harvey."