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SANDY-DIOCESES (UPDATED) Oct-31-2012 (1,370 words) With photos posted Oct. 29, 30 and 31. xxxn
Sandy a storm 'many have feared for long time,' says Catholic official
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Hurricane Sandy "is a storm that people in southern New Jersey have feared for a long time because of its direct impact on the coast," an area that is highly developed and also has a significant rate of poverty, said an official of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Camden, N.J.
Southern New Jersey might have been the hardest-hit area by Sandy, but far from the only area, as the hurricane's winds and rains brought flooding, power outages, downed trees, and other calamities to a large swath of the East Coast and into the Midwest, with 40 known deaths in the United States as of Oct. 31 and one death in Canada attributable to the storm.
Before hitting the U.S., Sandy cut through the Caribbean, where officials said at least 70 people died in the storm, with more than 50 of the deaths in Haiti.
"Ocean City, N.J., which is in Cape May County, that was completely covered with water ... and that's a fairly large area," Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities, told Catholic News Service Oct. 30. He said Wildwood, N.J., was similarly underwater and flooding would be a severe problem anywhere where rivers met bays or estuaries.
Access had been barred to the barrier islands -- which include Atlantic City -- because state and local police and fire officials were assessing the extent of power outages and flooding.
Hickey said teams had been set up to establish relief services, and that two parishes had been identified by midday Oct. 30 as relief distribution sites.
Camden was one of many dioceses along the East Coast that followed the lead of federal, state and local governments in shutting operations as Hurricane Sandy made landfall Oct. 29 in New Jersey with stiff winds, huge rainfalls, power outages and severe flooding. They stayed closed as Sandy slowly churned its way inland.
Catholic Charities USA was working with its local affiliates along the East Coast to get them necessary supplies and services once the storm passed, but as of Oct. 31, assessments were still being conducted in the worst-hit areas of the East.
A Catholic Charities USA report on conditions in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., said many mobile phone towers went down in the high winds. Catholic Charities staff opened one shelter at a high school for 100 special-needs occupants.
On Oct. 29, President Barack Obama declared major disasters for New York and New Jersey, making disaster assistance available to those in the heaviest-hit areas affected by the storm. The next day, Obama authorized an emergency declaration for New Hampshire, Virginia and West Virginia. Previously, he authorized emergency declarations for Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
On Oct. 30, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced he is making $13 million in quick-release emergency relief funds immediately available to New York and Rhode Island to help begin repairing the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, while assessments continued throughout the Northeast to determine the full extent of the damage. New York and Rhode Island were the first two states to submit requests for the funds.
After the storm had passed, transportation networks such as the New York subway system and some commuter train routes remained submerged in floodwater, and roads were being cleared of felled trees.
In the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan rescinded the obligation for Catholics to go to Mass on the Nov. 1 feast of All Saints if Catholics could not make it safely to their parish churches.
"We've got so much to pray for," Cardinal Dolan said in an Oct. 31 statement, "as we mourn our dead, pray for their families, and for those injured, and without homes. We also pray in thanksgiving for the heroic service of so many entrusted with our protection. Praise God that, once again, this community has united in selfless service to those in need."
Waiting out the storm in Ocean City, Md., Father Stanislao Esposito was not too worried about his church, St. Mary Star of the Sea, until the power went out about 5:30 p.m., Oct. 29 at the rectory where he lives. The parish is in the Diocese of Wilmington, Del.
The pastor rode out Sandy in the rectory, located outside of the mandatory evacuation zone, and worried that the church, just three blocks from the resort town's famous boardwalk, might be torn apart by the immense storm's 85 mph winds.
The last message he received: Water was lapping at the church steps, even as Sandy was hours from landfall.
"It's kind of awful when you don't know what's going on and you know how your mind begins to imagine the worst that could happen," he told Catholic News Service Oct. 30.
Father Esposito was able to make his way to the church at midday Oct. 30 as the ocean receded. Much to his relief, he found no damage save for one wet carpet and a small leak in the roof. The church did not even lose power, he said.
"I thank God that the water stopped at the steps," Father Esposito said.
Normal parish activities, including daily Mass, resumed Oct. 31.
Neighboring St. Luke Parish and its mission church, St. Andrew, both in northern Ocean City, also fared well, said Father Richard Smith, the pastor.
"We were very, very, very fortunate," Father Smith told CNS Oct. 31. "For us, it was just a severe rainstorm."
"There are a lot of people without light in New Jersey," Jim Goodness, the director of communications for the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J. There are hundreds of thousands without light or heat."
Estimates had 8 million households without power at the height of the hurricane.
Diocesan representatives across the Garden State said it would be hard to assess any negative impact of Sandy until after the storm.
Initial, unconfirmed reports from the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., said parishes along the Atlantic coast suffered interior damage from Sandy. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said twice as many people had been flooded by Sandy as had the year before by Hurricane Irene, which by then had been downgraded to a tropical storm that dumped rain along the Eastern Seaboard.
Government officials and the region's emergency responders "have the gratitude of the whole Catholic community," said an Oct. 29 statement by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, adding that the archdiocese's Catholic Human Services agency and its programs remained working through Sandy, dubbed later as a "post-tropical storm."
"Our service centers are available for shelter should community members need them," Archbishop Chaput said. "While we do not have active disaster relief in place during the storm, we will cooperate fully with the Red Cross and government agencies to provide food, alternate shelter and financial relief as needed after the storm."
Nearly 1,000 miles wide, Sandy's grasp reached to the Great Lakes, where gale warnings were in effect Oct. 29.
In Lorain, Ohio, 30 miles west of Cleveland, Sandy socked St. Anthony of Padua School, as gale-force winds blew off most of the roof the evening of Oct. 29. At the time no one was in the building, located directly on the lakefront, said Father Richard Hudak, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish.
"I've never been through a hurricane. This is probably akin to that," Father Hudak told CNS, describing the sound of the roof being ripped apart by the howling wind.
The school's second floor sustained severe water damage from rainwater that poured through the open roof. Parent volunteers quickly gathered at the school soon after the damaged was reported and removed electronic equipment and computers from the classrooms, the priest said.
Classes were canceled at least through Nov. 2, he said, as engineers assessed damages Oct. 31 as winds still gusting to 25 miles an hour continued to buffet the shoreline.
Arrangements were being made to move classes for the 250 students to the recently closed St. Thomas the Apostle School in neighboring Sheffield Lake, Father Hudak added.
"This is the problem with owning property on the lake," he said. "On a calm summer it's beautiful. But in a storm, this is what can happen."
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Contributing to this story were Dennis Sadowski and Patricia Zapor.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
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