'Perfect Storm' Threatens Gulf Coast as Hurricane Season Looms, Says Group

As this year's Atlantic hurricane season gets underway, the Gulf Coast's most vulnerable children and families face additional hardships from the massive oil spill and ongoing weak economy, warned one of the largest Christian humanitarian organizations in the world.

"If storm surges carry the oil slick inland, we have a potential health threat for children and families," said Phyllis Freeman of aid group World Vision, referring to the millions of gallons of crude oil that have been escaping from a damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico since April.

"If the oil coats homes, clean-up costs for lower-income families or those without insurance may be too much to bear," he added.

World Vision, which responds to some 85 disasters globally each year, has been actively coordinating with regional authorities and other members of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) in anticipation of a destructive hurricane season.

Freeman, World Vision's U.S. disaster response director, is in Grand Isle, La., this week meeting with local school district officials and church partners to discuss children's needs in particular.

"We need hygiene products, medical supplies, clothing, baby items, and children's toys to get families through the first days and weeks," Freeman reported. "For clean-up and recovery after a hurricane, survivors need cleaning supplies and equipment, building materials, bedding and school supplies."

Presently, the aid group already has several truckloads of response items on standby in Dallas and Los Angeles, but anticipates a greater need this year given the hurricane forecasts.

Barry Keim, Louisiana state climatologist, said this year is on track to be the second-busiest hurricane season, with the National Weather Service predicting between 14 and 23 named storms in the Atlantic Basin.

The National Weather Service further predicts that eight to 14 of those storms will develop into hurricanes this season, with between three and seven being "major hurricanes" - Category 3 or greater.

"Even without any hurricanes, the oil spill is hurting family incomes here," Freeman reported.

"[T]hat means when it's time to go back to school, many of the children here won't have the uniforms or school supplies they need. Add a major hurricane, and we could be looking at a 'perfect storm' for these families' ability to cope," the disaster response director said.

World Vision hopes corporate donors will take notice of the early predictions to begin donating the most needed items now, before the first storms come ashore.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the Atlantic hurricane season, which includes the Gulf of Mexico, runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Since 1851, the year records were first kept, the busiest hurricane season was 2005, which had 28 named storms. That was the year Hurricane Katrina - one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States - devastated the Gulf Cost, resulting in the deaths of at least 1,836 people and a total property damage of about $81 billion.

Nearly five years later, thousands of displaced residents in Mississippi and Louisiana are still living in trailers.