Hurricane Irene Aftermath: Christian Relief Groups in Full Operation

In the wake of Hurricane Irene’s damage to the U.S. East Coast and Canada, Christian disaster relief organizations began springing into action Sunday and are continuing efforts today.

Irene, which began as a category 3 hurricane and turned into a flood-damaging tropical storm, left 21 people dead, disrupted power to 6 million homes and businesses, and caused billions-of-dollars-worth in damages before crossing into Canada late Sunday.

Relief organizations such as Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) first sent help to North Carolina where the hurricane landed and are now assessing other parts of the country, gathering reports to determine where they will send teams next.

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Bill Adams, who is the director of CRWRC Disaster Response Services, told The Christian Post that the Michigan-based group is working with its church network within all the states affected by the storm damage to primarily help in the area of cleanup.

“The flooding is still happening, particularly as you go up New York State and into New England. Our role right now is to identify areas where we can be sending cleanup teams to start to help,” Adams said. “We started in North Carolina where we have communities there that we’ve worked with in the past years.”

CRWRC is a non-profit agency of the Christian Reformed Church in North America that ministers in development, relief, and justice education with people in need since 1962. More than likely, CRWRC will go into Canada as well to help with cleanup efforts, Adams said.

“We’re a bi-national group and we have been in southern Quebec before. They were badly flooded this spring. Now that this area has been hit again, we’re just waiting for the reports now, but we know the flooding is going to be bad there, too,” he said.

Operation Blessing International is beginning its Irene response by sticking to the group’s hometown area, Virginia Beach, Va., U.S. Disaster Relief Director Jody Herrington-Geddys told CP. Representatives went door-to-door today, offering help to those in need, she said.

“We are serving in the Hampton Roads area today,” Herrington-Geddys said. “The damage was very minimal. We went door-to-door today in the East Ocean View area of Norfolk checking on people. Our primary concern is to have the basic needs of the elderly, uninsured, and under insured taken care of.”

East Ocean View has been hit by flooding for the third time in two years. “This is a low income area with many people living pay check to pay check if they even have a pay check,” she said. “We have food bank in the area and gave extra food and some financial assistance to individuals today.”

“While everybody in the United States is giving a sigh of relief because it wasn’t as catastrophic as we thought, there are still people who are struggling,” Herrington-Geddys added. “Operation Blessing is making sure people whose property was damaged, and those who cannot afford to buy groceries are given the immediate needs of food, water, and debris cleanup.”

Operation Blessing International’s core programs include disaster relief, medical aid, hunger relief, orphan care, water wells and community development. The group is also assessing the coming needs of other U.S. areas affected by Irene, Herrington-Geddys said.

Salvation Army officials say damage assessment teams throughout North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware are still receiving significant requests for relief on a large scale after widespread power outages, downed power lines and trees, and flooding caused by Irene.

As of today, most of the Salvation Army's response is focused on feeding evacuees as well as fire, rescue, police and other emergency response personnel.

"The initial damage reports are leaving us cautiously optimistic that there has not been widespread structural damage or injuries," said Major George Hood, national community relations secretary in the U.S. "But flooding remains a problem, particularly in New England, and there is a significant response ongoing. It is critical that we provide the base of support for damage assessment teams, rescue personnel and survivors to ensure everyone weathers the fallout from this storm safely."

The Salvation Army is reporting today the numbers of meals and snacks already served in the East coast area:

  • About 15,000 meals to first responders and evacuees in New Jersey.
  • Nearly 14,000 meals, snacks and drinks have been served in Greenville, Washington, Elizabeth City and Morehead City in the Carolinas.
  • In Norfolk and Spotsylvania Counties, Va., more than 6,400 meals, snacks and drinks and provided lodging to 265 people have already been served.
  • More than 5,000 meals, snacks and drinks have been served at multiple shelter locations throughout Maryland and West Virginia.
  • In Connecticut, The Salvation Army has served hundreds of meals to evacuees at shelters as well as to first responders.
  • The Salvation Army is feeding at numerous shelter facilities throughout Massachusetts and other parts of New England.

The Salvation Army is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church established in London in 1865. In the United States, it has been supporting those in need for more than 130 years.

Samaritan’s Purse, which is led by Franklin Graham, was already prepared to help before Irene hit.

On Friday, two of the organization’s disaster relief units were ready to roll as soon as reports revealed the locations of storm damage. "These units are tractor-trailers that we have stocked full of emergency supplies and tools, and they will function on-site as our operations center for staff and volunteers," said disaster relief manager Tim Haas in a statement released before the storm hit.

When asked about FEMA’s response to the disaster and the ongoing debate of how funds are transferred from one relief effort to another, Adams said CRWRC has a great relationship with the government agency.

“Generally, FEMA does a much better job than the media gives them credit. We work with them every day. These are top rate people. Generally speaking they get a lot done,” Adams said. “As somebody who works with them on the ground, we have the highest respect for them.”

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