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Busy Atlantic storm season impacts Texas and beyond

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is prepared to respond

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Hurricane Hanna as it made landfall July 25 in Texas. (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via Wikimedia Commons)

LOUISVILLE — Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is monitoring the fallout from Hurricane Hanna in Texas and keeping tabs on tropical storm Isaias, which is forecasted to reach Florida by this weekend.

Isaias also threatens areas including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Meanwhile, the already record-breaking Atlantic storm season has Mission Presbytery assessing damage wrought by Hurricane Hanna in Texas in recent days and staying in communication with PDA.

Hanna, which was the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, made landfall in southern Texas last Saturday, bringing damaging winds and intense rainfall, triggering flooding and knocking out power to thousands of homes and businesses, according to news reports.

“There was damage along the coast, but most of the damage appears to be in the Rio Grande Valley, which has impacted many immigrant/refugee asylum communities that are close to the border,” said Jim Kirk, PDA’s associate for disaster response in the United States.

PDA has multiple options to help impacted areas, whether they’re in Texas or Hawaii, which was recently threatened by Hurricane Douglas, although that storm ended up taking a more northern path and therefore led to minimal damage, Kirk said.

At left is Jim Kirk, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s Associate for Disaster Response in the United States. (Photo by Danny Bolin)

“If a PC(USA) church was damaged, we have grants to support the continuation of their ministry,” he said. “We have the initial assistance grant and should there be a long-term response (needed), we have grants that could be made available for the long-term recovery and we can support the presbytery and community leadership through virtual deployments of our National Response Team.”

In Texas, Ed Sackett, disaster recovery coordinator for Mission Presbytery, is particularly concerned about the colonias, which are often substandard housing developments lacking basics including streets, sidewalks and running water. “This will be the third year in a row that colonias have been flooded,” he said.

Many of the people do not speak English and are sometimes reluctant to evacuate for fear of losing their possessions or getting noticed by authorities, Sackett said.

“Many of them are afraid to come out of the colonia because they might not be without papers, but someone in their family probably doesn’t have papers, and so they don’t want to bring attention to themselves,” he said. However, there are reports of “a lot people needing to be removed from their homes.”

As for churches, he said most of those facilities within the presbytery are built up to codes and standards to survive hurricanes like Hanna.

“We still have families that are trying to fight flooding and things of that nature right now, even though the rain has basically stopped,” Sackett said. “That’s just kind of the nature of being in the valley to a degree.”

Forecasters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted in May that there would be an above-normal 2020 hurricane season due to various climate factors and warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures. The Washington Post has reported that 2020′s five named Atlantic storms during July represent a tie with 2005 for the most storms during the month on record.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, there are refugees who need tents after having lost their homes, Sackett said.

Hanna roared into Texas at the same time that the state is battling an uptick of COVID-19 cases.

“You have to treat everybody as if they’re positive (for) COVID and in doing that, you have to think, ‘OK, how can we keep the spread from happening?’” Sackett said. “Instead of being able to house 100 people in one facility, you’re down to 25 or 30 people in a facility,” he said. Although some people will be able to go to hotels, some will end up in cramped quarters, such as in homes “with friends and family, and it’s just another way to spread the disease,” Sackett said.

Because of the pandemic, PDA “disaster responders will not be able to go into disaster-impacted communities as they have in the past,” Kirk said. Therefore, “it’s very important for local communities to be prepared and to build local capacity to respond to the immediate needs and long-term needs.”

As part of a recruitment effort, PDA is working with presbyteries in South Carolina and Florida on an effort to identify “commuter volunteers,” meaning individuals and groups within their presbyteries who would be willing to respond in the event of a disaster. Other states eventually will be involved in the pilot project, but “South Carolina and Florida are two of the states that certainly are vulnerable to hurricanes,” Kirk said.

Sackett said donating money can be helpful — and not only during times of disaster. “Most of these communities need to be rebuilt and brought up to standard, so that these families don’t have to live in poverty.”

After previous flooding, “we still had families living in homes with mold growing all over … and the homes are two bedrooms with a living room and a bedroom for nine people,” Sackett said. The people return because they have nowhere else to go, and the mold is “extremely toxic.”

To help Presbyterian Disaster Assistance respond to Hurricane Hanna or other storms, donate to DR000194

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