Episcopalians are working tirelessly to assess and respond to the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, a category four hurricane that ripped through the Gulf Coast August 29, leaving at least 120 people dead and countless more displaced and homeless.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, in an August 31 message to all bishops, clergy and congregations, called for "a community united in prayer and service during this time."
"At this time let us be exceedingly mindful that bearing one another's burdens and sharing one another's suffering is integral to being members of Christ's body," Griswold said in his statement. "I call upon every member of our church to reach out in prayer and tangible support to our brothers and sisters as they live through these overwhelming days of loss and begin to face the difficult challenges of the future." [Full statement at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_64601_ENG_HTM.htm]
Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) responded immediately by sending emergency funds to the Dioceses of Central Gulf Coast, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Western Louisiana to support immediate needs such as food, shelter and medical supplies.
Robert Radtke, president of ERD, described the hurricane's devastation as "tsunami-like."
"Authorities are locating people, rescuing them from houses, from rooftops," he said. "But our main concern is taking care of those persons who have been displaced or have lost their homes and everything they have."
The people most affected in any natural disaster are the poor, Radtke explained. "The people who have resources can get out of harm's way," he said. "Our priority is people living in poverty -- we're looking after the people who've been most drastically affected by this."
"We're like a deer caught in the headlights," said Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana, by phone from temporary offices at St. James' Church in Baton Rouge. "We've lost at least 18 churches. The diocesan offices didn't flood until today, but I understand they had already been looted. New Orleans is a city with many poor people, and there's a lot of civic unrest.
"But we've had calls from dioceses all over the country offering help, and ERD has been a tremendous aid to us," he added. "This is the church at its best -- pulling together and helping each other through hard times."
Bishop Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana explained that his diocese has taken on thousands of evacuees during the past 72 hours. "A number of our congregations are providing care for some of these people, and we have about 200 people from nursing homes and individual families housed at our diocesan camp and conference center," he said. "The latter are being provided with rooms and meals, with many sleeping in group cottages."
In Mississippi, many churches are a "total loss," explained diocesan communicator Lauren Auttonberry. "We have lost the structures for many of our coast area churches," she said. "St. Peter's by-the-Sea suffered extensive damage, although some of the walls are still standing. St. Mark's, Gulfport, Christ Church, Bay St. Louis, and Redeemer, Biloxi are a total loss."
Bishop Duncan Gray of Mississippi described the disaster as one of "unprecedented proportions."
"Long time residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast have noted that the damage and facilities from the storm will far exceed that of Hurricane Camille in 1969," he said. "Thousands have lost their homes and those holy places of worship to which they have instinctively gone in times of crisis. Unconfirmed reports have indicated that at least six Episcopal Churches have been totally destroyed with serious damage to many others. It is a time of deep shock and grief and tears."
"And it is a time of hope," Gray added, citing the hundreds of Episcopalians from throughout the country who have called offering help in various forms. The diocese received $25,000 immediate relief funds from Episcopal Relief and Development.
"A list of coast-area clergy and their status is currently being compiled," Auttonberry said, urging those with information on any of the churches and their clergy to call the diocesan office at 601.948.5954 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further information and details on how to send donations are available from the Diocese of Mississippi website at http://www.dioms.org.
Bishops Jenkins, Gray and Philip Duncan of Central Gulf Coast have instituted a daily conference call to coordinate relief efforts between their three dioceses.
ERD has responded with preliminary support of $50,000 to the Diocese of Louisiana. "While full details of the devastation continue to unfold, a complete needs assessment is underway," said Malaika Kamunanwire, ERD's director of communications and annual fund. "The funds will support
immediate needs for basic payroll, food, shelter, medical supplies, and additional needs for all affected."
A grant of $20,000 has been sent from ERD to the Diocese of Central Gulf Coast. "These funds will be directed toward helping vulnerable populations whose homes were either destroyed or severely damaged by the storm," Kamunanwire said. "The diocese is also in the process of assessing the damage and its responses, but these initial funds will help resource parishes that are helping to meet emergency housing and sustenance needs in their communities."
ERD is also sending a grant of $7,500 to assist the Diocese of Western Louisiana as it provides care for thousands of evacuees. ERD stands ready to continue support as additional needs emerge.
To make a contribution to help people affected by Hurricane Katrina, please donate to the US Hurricane Fund by credit card at http://www.er-d.org/ or by calling 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to: Episcopal Relief and Development, c/o US Hurricane Fund, PO Box 12043, Newark, NJ 07101.
Episcopal Relief and Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church of the United States. An independent 501(c) 3 organization, ERD saves lives and builds hope in communities around the world. We provide emergency assistance in times of crisis and rebuild after disasters. We enable people to climb out of poverty by offering long-term solutions in the areas of food security and health care, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.
For the latest news and information from ENS on Hurricane Katrina, visit: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_64552_ENG_HTM.htm.