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Diocese moves from prayer to action following hurricane

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PENSACOLA, Fla. — In the wake of Hurricane Michael, which ravaged the Florida panhandle, the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, whose territory was smack in the path of the Category 4 storm, has moved from prayer to action.


The diocesan website still urged prayer for the hurricane's victims, quoting two verses from Psalm 107, and also encouraged people to donate much-needed items to those whose lives were upended by Michael.


In conjunction with Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida, the diocese is accepting cash donations at https://bit.ly/1kRR0Er.


Goods urgently needed include water, tarps, nonperishable food items, cleaning supplies and gloves, pet supplies, and baby food and diapers. The diocesan pastoral center in Pensacola was accepting these items through Oct. 15, while St. Mary Church in Fort Walton Beach conducted a weekend collection for those items Oct. 13-14.


As of Oct. 15, civil authorities confirmed that 19 people had died but the death toll could go higher as at least 30 people were still missing. More than 250,000 people were still without power and could remain so for weeks.


"So many people have lost everything: homes, property and even their livelihood. The scenes of destruction are heart-wrenching, knowing that when we see a place where there once was a house, a family used to live there and are now homeless," Bishop William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee said in an Oct. 12 letter to the diocese.


He said the priests and employees of the diocese have been accounted for and "personal injury seems to have been kept to a minimum given the size of the storm." Some church buildings, parish halls, rectories, schools and other buildings may be a total loss, but the damage was still being assessed, he added.


Insurance will help with the rebuilding but it will be a long-term recovery project, Bishop Wack said. "But I know that we will come together and do what we need to pull through this."


He asked those who are able to donate supplies or funds to help with the recovery. In the meantime, the bishop said, the diocese was working hard to arrange temporary places to celebrate the upcoming weekend Masses to accommodate parishioners whose church buildings are lost or have been deemed unsafe. "Obviously, if it is not safe — or possible — to attend Mass on a Sunday, you are not obligated to go. Your safety is most important," Bishop Wack said.


Hurricane Michael retained hurricane-force winds up to 200 miles inland as it tore through Georgia before dumping heavy, windy rains onto North and South Carolina and part of southern Virginia before heading back out to the Atlantic Ocean.


Seven of the deaths were in Virginia, which Gov. Ralph Northam declared a disaster area before the storm hit. One firefighter died while on an emergency call, while the others had reportedly drowned.


Four deaths occurred in one Florida county, including a man who was killed when a tree crashed through his home. An 11-year-old Georgia girl was killed when the hurricane's high winds tore away a carport and sent it smashing into a modular home where the girl was visiting her grandparents.


An early estimate of losses from the hurricane was set at $4.5 billion by CoreLogic, based on the replacement cost of the houses and other building that would be in the storm's path. The company's numbers do not include flood damage.


Catholic Charities USA is a member of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, and is a "trusted source" by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, where people can make contributions. The homepage of its website, catholiccharitiesusa.org, has a link to make donations to assist hurricane victims.


Dominican Sister Donna Markham , president and CEO of CCUSA, presented $1 million to Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida Oct. 14. The monies will assist directly in the immediate, emergency assistance and disaster response efforts for those impacted by Hurricane Michael.


It is the first time on record that a hurricane of this intensity had hit the Florida panhandle. Those who surveyed the damage said the destruction appeared to be more like that from a tornado, as building after building had been flattened.


While a Florida military base in the hurricane's trajectory was evacuated and its planes flown hundreds of miles away, prisoners were not evacuated, and many of the region's poor people found they had nowhere to go until it was too late to get out.






© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018