Tropical Storm Isaac struck the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba over the weekend and has continued into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the U.S. Gulf Coast. The Associated Press has reported eight fatalities in Haiti and two in the Dominican Republic. Winds and flooding have destroyed and damaged tents that still house some survivors of the 2010 Haitian earthquake. There are news reports of damaged homes, flooding and mudslides in Port-au-Prince, but the damage to structures in the city is not extreme. In northwestern Haiti, where Church World Service (CWS) supports agricultural cooperatives, winds and rain have damaged houses, destroyed gardens and killed livestock. The poor construction of houses in this region has increased the impact of the disaster, with roofs blowing off and other serious structural damage.
In the Dominican Republic, the southwestern region was the most affected. The winds knocked down many trees and severely affected agricultural areas, such as banana plantations. The storm surge cut off a highway and downed electrical and telephone lines, cutting power to most of this region. In Cuba, Isaac struck the entire country and was especially intense in the east. Many families in vulnerable areas weathered the storm with friends or in storm shelters. CWS has not received reports of serious damage in Cuba.
Isaac is now expected to intensify to hurricane strength and approach the U.S. Gulf Coast tomorrow. A hurricane warning is in effect from the Florida Panhandle to Louisiana, including New Orleans. FEMA is warning that southeast Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama could see storm surges of 6 to 12 feet. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have all declared states of emergency.
Our partners at Church World Service currently have staff on the ground gathering more information from our partners in Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic regarding local needs. CWS will monitor the continued impact of Isaac and respond to immediate and long-term needs. We have also been in touch with the Latin American-Caribbean office of Global Ministries, and they are connecting with their partners in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to assess local needs.
We have also contacted the regional offices in the predicted path of the storm, who are working with their churches, local disaster prevention systems, and other networks to make sure plans are made and needs are met, should the storm continue its current trajectory.
Josh Baird of Disciples Volunteering has encouraged both patience and preparedness. Though media reports are serving as a constant reminder that the storm will likely land in the New Orleans Area on Wednesday, marking the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Josh reminds us that “Caution, preparedness, and evacuation are appropriate; alarm is not.” There are still variables that may affect the path of the storm. No matter the scale of Isaac, Week of Compassion will respond through our trusted partners, and we will meet needs as they arise.
If you would like to reach out in Courageous Compassion to help us provide for the needs emerging from Isaac and other storms, please consider a gift to the Week of Compassion Disaster Response Fund.
While we wait for more information, the best thing we can do is calmly prepare, gather information, and reach out. Through your generosity, we are, as a church, able to do precisely that.