Newsline Special: Hurricane Isaac

Brethren Disaster Ministries staff are monitoring the damage being caused by Hurricane Isaac–now downgraded again to a tropical storm–as it continues to make its way north across Louisiana, Mississippi, and other areas of the Gulf Coast. Hitting New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Isaac has been a much less severe storm but has caused widespread power outages and flooding in a number of areas, and has put thousands of people into shelters.

Children’s Disaster Service associate director Judy Bezon reports that CDS volunteers are on alert, ready to set up child care centers in shelters following the storm.

Roy Winter, director of Brethren Disaster Ministries, said that the Church of the Brethren initially will help support an ecumenical response by Church World Service (CWS), while he and his staff assess the need for eventual rebuilding project sites.

A Brethren grant to support work by CWS will be made possible by donations to the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund. Any Children’s Disaster Services response also will be funded by the EDF. For more information about the fund and for an opportunity to donate online, go to .

Children’s Disaster Services readies volunteers

Approximately 250 CDS volunteers have been contacted as the program gets ready to respond to the needs of Gulf Coast residents affected by Isaac. The program was put on alert by the Red Cross several days ago.

Children’s Disaster Services is a Church of the Brethren ministry that works cooperatively with the American Red Cross and FEMA, providing trained and certified volunteers to set up child care centers in shelters and disaster assistance centers. Specially trained to respond to traumatized children, CDS volunteers provide a calm, safe, and reassuring presence in the midst of the chaos that follows disasters.

CDS’ most recent work was in Oklahoma where volunteers spent Aug. 9-16 caring for children and families affected by wildfires.

Last Friday, when Isaac was making its way across the Caribbean, the program began contacting volunteers for their availability. Initially CDS volunteers were contacted in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, North and South Carolina (FEMA Region IV). Yesterday, CDS expanded its call for volunteers, adding FEMA Regions VI and III.

“We are in waiting mode with volunteers ready to go,” Bezon said by e-mail this afternoon.

In related news, CDS is offering several workshops to train more volunteers this fall. A workshop at Camp Ithiel near Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 27-28, for example, will be the first CDS workshop held in Florida since 2008. Other workshops are planned in Johnson City, Texas, on Sept. 7-8; at Modesto (Calif.) Church of the Brethren on Oct. 5-6; in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Oct. 5-6; at Camp Brethren Heights in Rodney, Mich., on Oct. 12-13; and in Denver, Colo., on Nov. 2-3. For more information including fees, requirements for participation, contacts for each workshop, and online registration go to .

Brethren Disaster Ministries to assess need for rebuilding, support for CWS response

“It is too early to determine if rebuild assistance will be needed,” says Brethren Disaster Ministries associate director Zach Wolgemuth, who added that it is likely that flooding will be the most devastating aspect of this storm.

“We continue to monitor the storm, participating in conference calls and communicating with partners,” he said.

Winter and Wolgemuth both said it is highly likely that the Church of the Brethren will be supporting a CWS appeal in response to the storm, by approving a grant from the EDF. “We will be supporting responses in all these areas in some way, mostly likely through partners,” Winter said. “Assessments continue in the DR and Haiti to determine the extent of unmet needs and how Brethren may respond.”

The Church World Service situation report, dated today, said that although Isaac only reached hurricane category 1 windspeeds at its height, “it is a large and wide-ranging storm with a significant storm surge, and it will continue to produce drenching rains from the Florida panhandle to the eastern coast of Texas. The storm is extremely slow moving…. The continued storm surge combined with high tides will significantly add to the coastal flooding.”

CWS added that damage assessments cannot start until the storm moves past the coast, but as it moves north continued heavy rains are expected to cause significant inland flooding. “It is also not uncommon for tornadoes to spin off from a hurricane,” the situation report warned.

The report noted the town of Plaquemines, La., south of Baton Rouge, as a particularly hard hit community where Mississippi River waters have overtopped the town’s levee and caused flooding. Residents have reported as much as 12 feet of water in their homes, and rescue operations are underway, the report said.

“Mass care sheltering operations are up and running in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana,” CWS said. “Power outages are reported in several states. As many as 500,000 customers have lost power in Louisiana; it will take several days before power is restored.”

The CWS response is likely to include providing material resources such as blankets, hygiene kits, and clean-up buckets, and assisting communities in developing long-term recovery plans, providing technical and financial support as possible.

CWS is reminding those who would like to help out that donations of clothing are not required. Brethren who would like to help with the response are encouraged to make donations to the Emergency Disaster Fund, go to .

Photo by USAID/PGeiman
Haitians still living in camps after the 2010 earthquake clean up following damage by Tropical Storm Isaac.

Haitian and Dominican Brethren report on storm damage

Brethren Disaster Ministries also is expressing concern for those affected by Tropical Storm Isaac when it passed across Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The program posted this prayer on its Facebook page today: “For this we pray: For the people of Haiti and the Dominican Republic who suffered loss of life and damage to homes and crops by Tropical Storm Isaac. For the residents of Louisiana as Isaac bears down on them today.”

Early reports from Haiti and the DR indicate that there were at least 19 deaths in Haiti related to the storm, with six people reported missing, said Winter in an e-mail today.

Isaac caused severe flooding in Haiti, and damaged houses and infrastructure including schools, as well as caused loss of livestock and severe damage to agriculture, and the damage has been particularly in camps as well as vulnerable rural regions said a report from the ACT Alliance, an ecumenical disaster response group of which the Church of the Brethren is a partner. The report also said that new outbreaks of cholera have been reported following the storm.

“As far I know all the Brethren are fine,” reported Ilexene Alphonse, who works with L’Eglise des Freres Haitiens (the Church of the Brethren in Haiti), in an e-mail. “I called all of the leaders that I have their phone numbers,” he wrote. “The only complaint is that they lost some gardens…. Some tents were severely damaged and a few roofs were lifted.”

From the Dominican Republic, pastors in Iglesia des los Hermanos (the Church of the Brethren in the DR) wrote to report that several communities in the DR faced flooding, more than 80,000 people were without power across the country, and thousands were displaced by the storm. The DR suffered damage to roads from San Juan to Santo Domingo and Bani, where there were several broken bridges as well.

The Dominican Brethren, however, have not suffered severely from the storm, the report said. Some Brethren pastors suffered the loss of some crops. The e-mail added, “There were many plantain crop lost in Barahona and other place in the southern part of the country. However the places where farmers were facing a great drought were blessed by so much rain.”

Contributors to this issue of Newsline include Judy Bezon, Steve Shenk, Roy Winter, Zach Wolgemuth, Jay Wittmeyer, Jane Yount, and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. Look for the next regularly scheduled issue on Sept. 5. Newsline is produced by the News Services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at Newsline appears every other week, with special issues as needed. Stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To unsubscribe or change your e-mail preferences go to
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