EPISCOPALIANS in Louisiana and Texas have been at the heart of the relief effort for fellow residents whose lives have been devastated by the hurricane-turned-tropical storm, Harvey, which ripped through the Gulf Coast over the weekend.
At least 31 people have died. Tens of thousands more have been stranded by catastrophic flooding across Texas since the category-four hurricane made landfall between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor last Friday night, with winds of 130 mph. Up to 50 inches of rain fell in some counties over the next three days.
The hurricane was reclassed as a storm before heading towards the Texas-Louisiana border on Tuesday. It made landfall for a second time, on Wednesday, bringing heavy rain and 45-mph winds to Louisiana. More rain was expected until Friday.
The Bishop of Western Louisiana, the Rt Revd Jacob Owensby, said that schools and offices had been closed in several parishes in the diocese, where the storm continued its path of destruction.
“Floodwaters are encroaching on some homes and businesses in the south and west. We wait together not only to see what this storm brings but also to discern how to be most helpful to those in need.”
Meanwhile, Episcopalians in Houston, a notoriously high-risk flood area and one of the worst-affected by the heavy rainfall, have been rescuing and sheltering flood victims, and beginning the long road to recuperation.
The state sent out more than 50 search-and-rescue helicopters, 30 boats, and 90 trucks in response to thousands of calls to the emergency services over the weekend. Among the reported fatalities were a family of six, thought to have been swept away by floodwater in their van east of Houston; and a man who attempted to swim through flooding on Monday night.
By Thursday, new dangers had emerged, after explosions were reported at a heavily flooded chemical plant in Crosby, east of Houston. The company, Arkema SA, confirmed that further fires were “imminent and unpreventable” because its chemical cooling systems had lost power in the storm. Residents within a 1.5 mile radius were ordered to evacuate immediately.
PAGaping hole: the First Baptist Church in Rockport, Texas, has been extensively damaged by Storm Harvey
Episcopal churches are already housing people whose homes have been flooded or severely damaged by the storm, while other residents remain trapped in their own homes, Episcopal Relief and Development reported. “Neighbourhoods have become islands of small communities surrounded by water,” the director of the charity’s US disaster programme, Katie Mears, said.
“We are hearing so many inspirational stories of compassion, hospitality, and care, including people with boats and trucks ferrying supplies from one area to another.”
A senior warden at Trinity Episcopal Church, in Baywater, Robert Jordan, had taken to the floodwaters in his own 18-foot aluminium boat to rescue 30 residents stranded in their homes, the Episcopal News Service reported. “You have to go by yourself if you can, because you don’t know how many people you’re going to pick up,” he said. “If you take anybody with you, it gives you less capacity.”
Some have taken refuge in his own home, while Trinity Church sheltered about 150 flood victims this week. Mr Jordon had dug a ditch around the ten-year-old building, which has suffered a few minor leaks, to prevent further damage from floodwater. “I’ve been here all my life and I have seen it bad but never anything like this,” he said.
A further 10,000 evacuees from the Houston area have been sheltered at the George R. Brown Convention Center, where the Assistant Bishop of Texas, the Rt Revd Hector Monterroso, visited on Wednesday.
“My first idea was to go there and to be around and look for the opportunity to pray with the people,” he said. “After some minutes, I discovered that when people saw a clergy person, they wanted to talk and share their concerns, their situation, their realities, and their hopes.
“The most important experience that I had with them is that they feel thankful for their lives. They lost many things. They left their houses and their personal belongings, but they say: ‘Thank God, we are here. We are alive and we are safe.’”
Volunteers from Trinity by the Sea Episcopal Church in Port Aransas, where the storm first hit, are joining other churches to begin the painful process of clearing the wreckage, and providing pastoral support to those affected.
It comes after the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, urged fellow Episcopalians to volunteer their services to the charity Episcopal Relief & Development, or donate to the recently created Hurricane Harvey Response Fund. He advised against donating food or goods.
“As our fellow Episcopalians minister to those in need, they need our help not just now or in the short term, but for the long haul. Our support of Episcopal Relief and Development is a tangible, practical, effective, and reliable way to do that,” he said.
“Keep in your prayers for the people in Texas and Louisiana whose lives have been forever changed by Hurricane Harvey. 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.”