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Deluge, floods, landslides in Peru leave more than 80 dead, 111,000 homeless

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Catholic News Service

LIMA, Peru — Felicita Chipana was at work when the Rimac River began to rise. By the time she got home, her kitchen was gone, swept away by floodwaters that left scores of families homeless on the east side of this sprawling capital city.

“We have no water, no electricity, and there are mosquitoes everywhere,” she said as a bulldozer cleared sediment out of the river channel below what remained of her rustic house.

Agents of the Peruvian National Police rescue people from floodwaters March 17 near the Rimac and Huaycoloro rivers in Lima. (CNS photo/Ernesto Arias, EPA)

Agents of the Peruvian National Police rescue people from floodwaters March 17 near the Rimac and Huaycoloro rivers in Lima. (CNS photo/Ernesto Arias, EPA)

Her granddaughter had developed a fever after being bitten by mosquitoes, and her daughter had taken the child to the hospital.

Picking her way over boulders carried down the river by the flood, Chipana joined neighbors, who had also lost their houses, as Catholic Church workers coordinating emergency aid noted their names and the number of people in their households.

All morning, dozens of volunteers from several Lima parishes had gathered at Santa Maria Parish in Huachipa, in the Diocese of Chosica on Lima’s east side, the area hardest hit by flooding in March. They sorted and bagged donations of food and water for emergency distribution, setting aside huge sacks of clothes and bedding for later.

Unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean off Peru is causing heavy rains on the usually arid coast, swamping cities that have poor drainage and destroying wood or mud-brick houses not built to withstand a downpour.

Rain in the Andes Mountains has triggered landslides, sending water and sediment cascading down rivers like the Rimac, blocking roads and sometimes burying vehicles.

As of March 23, 85 people were reported dead, 270 injured and 20 missing in the deluges. Nationwide, 111,000 people had lost their houses and another 670,000 had suffered damage to their homes.

Along the desert coast, flash floods raged down riverbeds that had been dry for years. Near Chipana’s house, floodwaters had swept away two trucks.

A video of a woman struggling out of a maelstrom of water, mud, tree trunks and rubble near a town south of Lima drew hundreds of thousands of viewers on YouTube.

“Urban neighborhoods have been built with no planning,” said Rocio Sanchez of the Chosica Diocese office of Caritas, the church’s humanitarian aid and development agency.

After landslides on the hilly east side of Lima in 2012, local governments stopped giving people title to lots in hazardous areas. But many neighborhoods have been built on unstable hillsides or in flood plains. Most residents of those neighborhoods are people who migrated to the city from rural areas, or, like Chipana, those migrants’ children.

Father Teofilo Perez, pastor of Santa Maria Parish, estimated that 750 of the 75,000 families within the parish boundaries have been affected. Some were stranded until the water level in the Rimac River dropped.

“People don’t take the necessary precautions,” said Father Perez, who became pastor in February, just before the worst of the flooding. “They’ve been building their homes closer and closer to the river.”

Father Perez grew up in Chiclayo, on Peru’s arid northern coast.

“As a boy, I never saw rain,” he said. Now his home town is partly underwater, along with other major coastal cities.

Farther north, farmers in Piura braced themselves last year when an El Nino was expected to pelt the coast with heavy rain. Instead, farmers battled drought.

So when rains came in January, people were grateful, said Manuel Alburqueque, director of the Jesuit-run Rural Research and Promotion Center (CIPCA, for its Spanish initials), in Piura.

But now nearly one-third of the people affected by the disaster live in Piura, where 10 hours of storms March 22 left the city awash. Peru’s weather service predicts that the rains will continue into April.

The Peruvian government has earmarked at least $800 million for reconstruction, which will include rebuilding nearly 200 bridges and repairing more than 3,700 miles of highway.

Periodic flooding has devastated Peru’s coast for thousands of years, but Alburqueque hopes that after the most recent disaster, residents and government officials will pay attention to zoning maps, to avoid rebuilding in high-risk areas.

“We need to build sustainable cities,” he said.

In Lima, Chipana is not sure what will happen to what’s left of her house.

“I’d like to move away from here,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “But I have nowhere else to go.”

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Catholic relief workers assess areas hit by typhoon in Philippines

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MANILA, Philippines — Catholic relief workers were on their way to a typhoon-stricken portion of the northern Philippines, including an area from which there had been no communication.

Catholic Relief Services country director Joe Curry said teams from his agency and Caritas Philippines were making their way to at least three provinces in central and eastern Luzon, where much of the damaging floods have been reported.

Residents hold on to a plastic hose and an electricity wire Oct. 19 while trying to cross a flooded road amid a strong current after Typhoon Koppu hit the Philippine province of Nueva Ecija. (CNS photo/Erik De Castro, Reuters)

Residents hold on to a plastic hose and an electricity wire Oct. 19 while trying to cross a flooded road amid a strong current after Typhoon Koppu hit the Philippine province of Nueva Ecija. (CNS photo/Erik De Castro, Reuters)

“Our biggest concern is what we’re not hearing from certain areas where the storm had the biggest impact, especially in northern parts of Aurora province,” Curry told Catholic News Service Oct. 19. “This is where the storm sat for about four hours before it made landfall.”

Curry told CNS his office had not heard anything from that part of the province because communication lines were down and roads into those towns were blocked.

Typhoon Koppu made landfall Oct. 18 on the eastern coast of Luzon, the country’s main island in the North, packing 108 mile-per-hour winds that toppled power lines and trees and blew off roofs. Its pounding rains caused chest-high flooding in some areas, while swollen rivers overflowed and forced some residents to their rooftops.

Government officials confirmed three deaths by late Oct. 19. The civil defense office said more than 280,000 people were affected by the storm. About 70,000 were in evacuation centers.

Koppu, with cloud coverage spanning 375 miles, moved westward slowly and was expected to continue dumping more rain over much of Luzon.

Curry said aid agencies also were concerned about Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya provinces.

“Those are areas around the Pampanga River, which is now flooding, and the flooding will continue because the rain is still coming through,” he said.

In mountain towns, rescue workers towing residents with rope maneuvered rolling currents of brown muddy water that had poured down the mountainsides.

Curry said his office has been in touch with dioceses in central Luzon, but it could not make contact with any churches or the diocese on the east.

In Isabela and Cagayan provinces, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said residents who vacated their homes took to the streets when evacuation centers in their towns became overcrowded. It said the Philippine Red Cross served about 4,100 meals and setting up support services for the displaced.

While Koppu moved northwest at 3 miles per hour, the head of the state weather bureau said some parts on the west could expect half a month’s worth of rain in a 24-hour period.

“There are so many villages on deep slopes in mountains and in valleys near rivers that are very vulnerable to landslides and flooding, so that’s what we want to watch out for in the next couple of days,” Curry said.

 

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Catholic Charities agencies helping storm-damaged southern U.S.

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Catholic News Service

Catholic Charities agencies were on the ground assessing damage after a series of storms with deadly tornadoes and massive floods swept through the southern United States April 27-29.

Patsy Reno searches through the rubble of her home for mementoes April 30 in Vilonia, Ark., after a tornado swept through the area April 27. Catholic Charities agencies were on the ground assessing damage after a series of storms with deadly tornadoes and massive floods swept through the southern United States April 27-29, killing at least 35 people. (CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters

The storms killed 35 people and left thousands without power while razing homes and businesses.

Arkansas and Mississippi were the hardest hit, but deaths also were reported in Oklahoma, Iowa, Alabama and Tennessee. Georgia residents lost power, and the Carolinas and Florida experienced flash floods.

In areas hit by tornados, thousands of people forced out of their homes sought temporary shelter while the National Guard, local police and residents sifted through the rubble searching for victims.

Patricia Cole, communications director for Catholic Charities USA, said its disaster response operations team has been coordinating with local Catholic Charities agencies in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama “where conditions on the ground are changing by the hour.”

She said Catholic Charities USA had received requests for grants for financial assistance and is staying in close contact with Catholic dioceses and agencies in the damaged areas as they assess the needs in their communities.

Patrick Gallaher, executive director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas, posted updates on the agency’s website, noting that the search and rescue phase of the relief effort finished April 30. He also said the overflow of donations made it impossible to store any other contributions until new collection points were established.

“The immediate need of survivors is being met,” he said.

St. Joseph Church in Conway, Ark., initially was used as an American Red Cross shelter, but the shelter was closed April 29 because not enough people were using it. Parishes in the Little Rock Diocese have been conducting their own drives to mobilize and collect donated materials.

Gallaher said the local Catholic Charities agency continues to coordinate with other agencies to provide support during the cleanup phase and is gathering case managers for the rebuilding effort that will come in the months ahead.

“The long-term relief effort will take months as we assist people in obtaining replacement housing, furniture, clothing and counseling,” he said. “As needs crystallize, we shall seek help from among our parishes.”

Greg Patin, executive director of Catholic Charities in Jackson, Miss., told Catholic News Service April 30 that staff members would begin to assess local needs May 1 after the first responders were finished their work.

Once needs are assessed, he said, “we will begin to provide what assistance we can,” but he also noted that the agency has limited staffing resources and will need volunteer assistance.

The agency has reached out to the Knights of Columbus for help and is looking for monetary donations because it cannot accept donated goods at this time.

To support Catholic Charities’ disaster relief effort, visit their website at https://support.catholiccharitiesusa.org, call 1-800-919-9338, or mail a donation to Catholic Charities USA P.O. Box 17066, Baltimore, Md., 21297-1066.

 

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