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Mexican bishop, Caritas staffer say situation serious, complicated after quake

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MEXICO CITY — A Catholic bishop and a Caritas worker in Mexico said the situation was extremely serious after the Sept. 19 earthquake, and much aid would be needed.

“The situation is complicated, because the first earthquake (Sept. 7) had already affected thousands of people in Chiapas and Oaxaca,” Alberto Arciniega, head of communications for Caritas Mexico, told Catholic News Service Sept. 20. “The church is continuing to assist those dioceses, but with what happened yesterday, the emergency situation is being re-evaluated to get a more exact assessment of the aid that is needed.”

People mourn Sept. 20 near caskets containing the bodies of victims who died after the roof of a church in Atzala, Mexico, collapsed in the Sept. 19 earthquake. (CNS photo/Imelda Medina, Reuters)

The Vatican announced Sept. 21 that, through the Dicastery for Promoting Human Development, Pope Francis is sending an initial $150,000 to aid Mexico. Money will be distributed by the nuncio to dioceses most affected.

Arciniega said all the dioceses in Mexico were collecting food, water and other necessities for victims of the quakes. He said they were seeking economic support from inside and outside the country.

“We know it is a serious situation, and international aid is being requested,” Arciniega told Catholic News Service.

“Rehabilitation and reconstruction will take time and will be expensive,” he added. “Thousands of people have been left homeless, and many churches have been damaged.”

The magnitude 7.1 quake that hit Sept. 19 was not as strong as the earlier magnitude 8.1 quake, but the second quake was centered in Puebla state, just southeast of Mexico City, as opposed to in the Pacific Ocean. Arciniega said Puebla and Morelos states and Mexico City were worst hit in the second quake, which killed more than 230 people.

In Morelos, just to the south of Mexico City, damage was widespread. Gov. Graco Ramirez put the death toll at 73.

President Enrique Pena Nieto has visited the municipality of Jujutla, where houses were reduced to rubble.

Oscar Cruz, spokesman for the Diocese of Cuernavaca, based in the Morelos state capital, said “the damage is worse … in many towns that are even poorer.”

At least 89 parishes in Morelos state suffered damage or were destroyed, according the National History and Anthropology Institute, which is responsible for Mexico’s older churches. The Cuernavaca cathedral, which dates to the 1500s and been undergoing restoration activities, also suffered damage and parts of it cannot be used, Cruz said.

Parish residences also were damaged, leaving priests homeless, Cruz said. A pair of priests were injured by falling debris; one was still hospitalized Sept. 21.

The diocese has started collecting goods for those left homeless.

“People have been extraordinary,” Cruz said. “This has been an extraordinary moment of solidarity. People are coming out and saying, ‘I want to help.’”

Bishop Ramon Castro of Cuernavaca has been touring the hardest-hit towns of Morelos. The bishop and the state governor had been at odds in recent years of social policies promoted by the governor and the bishop’s refusal to stop condemning violence and corruption in the state.

The pair have put aside their differences in the wake of such a disaster, Cruz said.

“There’s no working together” on the relief effort, “but we’re not getting in each other’s way,” Cruz said.

Mostly, priests and the bishop “have been trying to be close to the people,” he added.

Earlier, Arciniega shared audio of an interview with Bishop Castro, who noted that parishes in his diocese had been collecting items to send to victims of the Sept. 7 earthquake in Chiapas and Oaxaca. Now those items, if they were not destroyed in the Sept. 19 quake, will be used locally, the bishop said, adding, “but it will not be enough.”

Arciniega was in Oaxaca when he spoke Sept. 20. He said the Sept. 19 earthquake was felt there, but apparently did not cause damage.

“People (in the south) are worried that the assistance will stop because the cameras and newscasts are focusing on Mexico City. There is fear that the aid will stop and the emphasis will be on the center of the country,” he said.

He added that it was raining in Tehuantepec, an area of Oaxaca damaged in the first earthquake, which killed nearly 100 people.

“That makes the housing situation more complicated. Not only did people’s homes collapse, but now it’s raining, so people are in shelters, they need food. They are setting up community kitchens. We are continuing to evaluate how much the diocese can do to help itself and requesting aid from other dioceses and from outside the country.”

     

Contributing to this story were David Agren in Mexico City; Barbara Fraser in Lima, Peru; and Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

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Mexico mops up after Patricia; ‘nature was kind,’ official says

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — Mexico is mopping up after Hurricane Patricia hit its Pacific Coast with Category 5 strength, but left surprising little damage and few deaths, given the severity of the storm.

A person sits in a car by a felled tree in Melaque, Mexico, Oct. 24. (CNS photo/Edgard Garrido, Reuters)

A person sits in a car by a felled tree in Melaque, Mexico, Oct. 24. (CNS photo/Edgard Garrido, Reuters)ops u

An official with Caritas Mexico, the church’s charitable arm, says the storm left a mess in parts of the dioceses serving the western states of Colima, Jalisco and Nayarit with flooding and property damage, but mostly impacted small settlements and rural areas, which were being provided with assistance from parishes diocesan collections.

“The evaluation that they’re doing at this time says that there is not a crisis situation,” said Jose Luis Lopez, director of emergency responses for Caritas Mexico, relaying information provided by local Caritas chapters.

The aftermath came as a relief for Mexico, which was bracing for the worst. Hurricane Patricia was predicted to bring unprecedented destruction. It also showed the country’s capability in responding to strong storms, which crash both coasts frequently, especially as experts say climate change is likely to cause more intense hurricanes with increased frequency.

“What has surprised us was the rapid increase (in the storm) to the point it reached Category 5 strength,” Lopez said.

Hurricane Patricia escalated into a Category 5 hurricane as it moved over warm waters in the Pacific, packing winds of more than 200 miles per hour and making landfall Oct. 23 in the evening hours. It was expected to dump up to 12 inches of rain on coastal communities and more as it moved inland.

Lopez credited a quick response by the government and civil protection officials, who issued warnings, opened shelters for those seeking safety and prepared clean-up plans. He also credited citizens, who haven’t always acted with urgency in times of crisis and sometimes stay put due to fears of losing their few possessions to either floods or looters.

“In general, we see a population paying attention to warnings,” Lopez said.

“As Catholics, as people of faith, we see a population that was praying,” he added.

The storm struck Mexico as one of the strongest hurricanes ever registered in the Western Hemisphere, but it avoided populated areas by arriving in a region between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta known as the Costa Alegre. It also quickly lost strength as it hit the Sierra Madre.

“Nature was kind,” said Gerardo Ruiz Esparza, communications and transportation minister. “It made the hurricane go straight into the mountain.”

The newspaper La Jornada reported the storm’s strongest winds were concentrated in a band about 30 miles wide, much narrower than previous monster storms.

More people also paid attention to the government warnings than in past problematic storms, said Father Rafael Rico, director of Caritas in the Diocese of Autlan, which includes the coastal communities where Hurricane Patricia made landfall.

Diocesan priests said the storm hit hardest in poor communities sustained by fishing, coconut groves and banana groves, and that those with the least lost the most as their homes were unable to withstand the strong winds.

“There are poor families that have lost everything,” said Father Rico, adding that relief supplies gathered from an Oct. 25 collection would be delivered within two days.

Pope Francis published an encyclical earlier this year urging care for the environment and action and climate change. It’s a call Lopez says Caritas in Mexico is taking seriously.

“There are issues here that have to do with climate change,” he said.

“We’re aware that these phenomena, with incredible variation in so little time,” like Hurricane Patricia rapidly reaching Category 5 status, “have to do with a situation of change, which we cannot ignore.”

“This situation should make us more attentive because we live in areas where hurricanes occur,” Father Rico added.

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