Various Christian groups are working to meet the immediate needs of people suffering from flooding, mudslides and a volcanic eruption in Central America.
More than 150 people have died in Guatemala alone and at least another 100 people are missing after Tropical Storm Agatha dumped heavy rain on the poverty-stricken nation last week. The storm has also killed 17 people in Honduras and ten people in El Salvador, according to official figures.
Members of Action by Churches Together (ACT), an alliance of church-based relief groups, have responded to the tropical storm by helping with evacuations, supporting temporary shelters, cleaning up debris, and forming response teams to assess the damages in the affected nations.
ACT members said they plan to distribute basic food and non-food items to survivors who cannot provide for themselves and to support the rehabilitation of agricultural productivity in damaged communities.
Meanwhile, Food for the Hungry, which has a long history of humanitarian work in Latin America, said the heavy rainfall has affected its operation in Nicaragua. The storm has damaged nearly 90 homes in communities that the anti-poverty group works in.
The ministry’s emergency response unit has provided initial financial help and is working with locals to determine how to best respond.
"We are planning to respond in coordination with the local leadership and hopefully with some of the churches to provide roofing materials," said FH-Nicaragua staff member Nathan Sandahl in a report. "The rains have stopped temporarily, but we are just at the beginning of the rainy season so a no-response will leave families exposed for the next five months."
FH is also figuring out how to best respond in Guatemala.
Guatemalan officials say the downpour has destroyed as many as 22,000 homes and left 155,000 people homeless. About half of the people are staying in shelters.
And just two days before Agatha hit, Guatemala's Pacayo volcano erupted, dumping tons of ash on Guatemala City and elsewhere. The Guatemalan government's National Disaster Reduction Coordinator (Conred) warned citizens on Thursday that their health is at risk from persistent dust caused by the eruption.
In a telegram released Wednesday by the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sympathy for the victims of Tropical Storm Agatha in Guatemala and appealed to Christians for "sentiments of ardent charity" toward those affected.
The pontiff said he was "profoundly grieved on learning of the natural disasters that are affecting this beloved nation, causing victims, wounded and numerous material damages, and leaving many families homeless."
According to Zenit news agency, Benedict also expressed hope that the international community and the Guatemalan authorities would be "moved by fraternal solidarity" and render "effective aid to that country to surmount these difficult moments."