Irene leaves trail of destruction and relief efforts

Matthew Davies and Mary Frances Schjonberg writing for Episcopal News Service report on the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, the damage and the work of the church sheltering and helping.


Episcopal Relief and Development Disaster Preparedness program and diocesan coordinators were part of the system of prevention and recovery. Northeastern states like Vermont are still assessing the massive dislocation due to flash floods and winds even as NYC and Washington, DC are reporting a big “whew” and some parts of the country are making fun of the East Coast for being wimps. One wonders about the lack of compassion manifest while many work silently and tirelessly for their brothers and sisters.

Linda Ellis and Bill Lynch skirted downed trees and power lines in and around the graveyard behind All Saints Memorial Church in Navesink, New Jersey, on Aug. 29, surveying the damage done by Hurricane Irene.

Standing on a driveway behind the church and gazing up at the littered graveyard, she pointed to a shattered tree trunk. “The whole trunk looks like it spiraled off,” she said.

Branches and parts of tree trunks covered gravestones and left wood chips flung among the graves.

Irene’s winds cracked a window in the rectory next to the church, but Ellis said they found no other structural damage.

“We’re fortunate,” said Lynch, the parish’s treasurer, as he prepared to call the Church Insurance Co. to inquire about whether All Saints’ policy applies to the removal of downed trees.

“Our only concern is how to pay for it if the insurance doesn’t,” Ellis said. “And anyway, the deductibles are high.”

It was a scene no doubt repeated from North Carolina to Maine on Aug. 29 as Episcopalians joined their neighbors to clean up in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

St. Paul’s Church in Centreville, Maryland, in the Diocese of Easton, sustained some structural damage when a tree fell onto the building and “penetrated in the nave,” according to a note on the church’s website.

St. Andrew’s Church in Newark, New Jersey, also had a tree fall on its roof, according to Nina Nicholson, director of communications and technology for the Diocese of Newark.

As the storm approached, many Episcopalians also offered help to their neighbors. For instance, All Saints Episcopal Church in Lakewood, New Jersey, provided access to shelter for a camp of homeless people on the edge of town.

Katie Mears, Episcopal Relief & Development manager for its U.S. disaster program, said Aug. 29 that the amount of damage from Irene “seems to vary widely from place to place.”

“Some people were able to stay in their homes and are now just waiting for the power to come back on; others were evacuated and are returning to try and salvage what they can from their flood-soaked homes and businesses,” she said in a press release.

“We are still in the very early stages of assessment and planning in partnership with local dioceses,” said Mears. “I have been in contact with a number of the diocesan disaster coordinators from impacted areas, and they will be working with diocesan leadership to see what needs to be done and how churches can help.”

The coordinators, appointed by bishops to help dioceses and their parishes create disaster preparedness plans and respond in emergency situations, receive training and support from Episcopal Relief & Development as part of its Disaster Preparedness Initiative, which was launched in 2010.

“We can see that the impacted dioceses have strengthened their networks, and their capacity to prepare,” said Mears. “Not only do more dioceses and parishes have plans in place for how to deal with disasters, but the [coordinators] have built some really helpful connections with outside institutions and agencies. I have a lot of confidence in the ability of dioceses to respond to the situation in their areas, and of course we will be standing by to offer support as needed.”

Read more here.

Ekklesia reports on the various religious relief efforts here.

UPDATE: Vermont towns isolated

Category : The Lead

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2 Comments
  1. Lee Alison

    Gethsemane Episcopal Church, Proctorsville, VT lost its parish hall and the foundation of the church is severely compromised so they will be doing house church for a while. The small community of Proctorsville was greatly affected by the storm.

  2. Thanks for this, Lee. I’ve been waiting to hear more from Vermont, knowing that there must be lots of church damage there. Our prayers and thoughts are with all the folks there…

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