A child looks at a house in Falls Church, Va., June 30 that was struck by a tree after a violent thunderstorm ripped through the area late June 29. Wind gusts clocked at speeds of up to 79 mph were reported in and around the nation's capital, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of homes. CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

Region hit by storms recovering from power outages, coping with damage

By  Maria-Pia Negro, Catholic News Service
  • July 9, 2012

WASHINGTON - After a violent windstorm swept in to the mid-Atlantic region from the Midwest June 29, leaving a trail of devastation across 10 states, volunteers marched in to help those who were worse off.

"People are motivated to help," said Patti Phillips, Catholic Charities communication and marketing director in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va.

The storm left millions of households and businesses without power in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and New Jersey. It caused several deaths and massive power outages that affected more than 4 million.

The destruction was followed by a heat wave, with temperatures reaching triple digits in several cities.

In West Virginia, one of the states' most affected by the storm, thousands were still struggling with heat, lack of food, water and gasoline a week later, Catholic Charities officials said.

"There is not enough ice, not enough water, not enough food," said Elizabeth Hardy, Catholic Charities regional director in West Virginia.

The social services agency was working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state authorities to point residents to several shelters and cooling stations where they could escape the week's heat wave until their electricity was restored.

"Many have opened up parishes' halls as cooling stations or places to pick up a prepared meal," Phillips told CNS. "In the Charleston region, volunteers are making meals for anyone who needs them."

Power outages also disrupted water services, and authorities were concerned about hundreds in need of food after theirs spoiled in the heat.

"Our grocery stores had to close and food needed to be discarded. Even places like restaurants don't have food in the fridge anymore," Hardy said.

Churches of all denominations, along with the Red Cross, National Guard and FEMA, were providing affected counties with water and thousands of meals.

Meteorologists labeled the storm a "derecho" -- a straight-line wind storm of hurricane force -- that hit 700 miles while moving quickly across the Midwest to the Atlantic Ocean.

It affected millions of households and businesses as well as parishes properties.

Tom Alban, director of risk management for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told The Catholic Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, there were nine damaged-related claims filed throughout the archdiocese, most of them no more serious than fallen trees.

Across the Archdiocese of Washington, reported damage included broken stained-glass windows, fallen trees, toppling of steeple and roof damage, reported the Catholic Standard, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Catholic Charities worked all weekend to shelter clients whose houses were damaged.

"One of our men's shelters, with 150 homeless men lost power," said Erik Salmi, spokesman for Catholic Charities in the Archdioceses of Washington. "Several staff members had to relocate clients on very short notice."

Four women with developmental disabilities had to be moved to an empty facility when a tree damaged their group home. Other displaced clients are living in hotels and may remain there for the rest of the week thanks to the organization's emergency fund, Salmi told CNS.

After the storm knocked down power lines, weekend Masses were celebrated without lights or air conditioning.

Father Blake Evans, vicar at the Shrine of St. Jude Parish in Rockville, Md., told the Standard that Masses were well attended and that some parishioners had to drive around blocked roads and fallen trees to reach the church.

"It was really nice to see the faithfulness of the people," he said.

Many other parishes in Maryland, including St. Mary of Piscataway in Clinton, had Mass by candlelight and with church windows open, according to the Standard.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops headquarters in Washington, which houses the CNS offices, lost power for 80 hours causing delays.

Churches, such as Resurrection of Our Lord in Laurel, Md., had their power restored by July 1 and opened as cooling centers, according to the Review. In Washington, city libraries and local parishes also helped residents cope with record heat, Salmi said.

Utilities from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic called in emergency relief crews from as far away as Canada and Texas to help to restore the electricity. They estimated the outages would last more than a week because after the winds took down power lines.

Four days after the storm, 1.4 million homes and businesses from Illinois to Virginia remained without power. Reuters reported Reuters reported that as of July 6, at least 400,000 customers in West Virginia are still in the dark.

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