Episcopal Relief & Development Responds to the First Tropical Storms of the Season

Although the 2010 Indian Ocean cyclone and Pacific hurricane seasons have barely begun, South Asia and Central America have already experienced devastating storms. In the aftermath, Episcopal Relief & Development is working with regional partners to support communities in need.

Beginning on May 14, 2010, four days of heavy monsoon rains caused by Cyclone Laila resulted in flash floods, high winds and landslides in many parts of Sri Lanka. Related flooding affected more than half a million people, killing at least 20 and displacing more than 280,000.

Cyclone Laila came much earlier than expected—the Bay of Bengal has not seen a cyclone develop as early as May since 1990—and local communities were unprepared for its disastrous effects. With support from Episcopal Relief & Development, the Diocese of Colombo was able to swiftly provide emergency assistance including food for 2,500 people in four communities.

“Although the rains were unexpected, the Diocese of Colombo was quick to respond to immediate needs,” said Nagulan Nesiah, Episcopal Relief & Development Program Officer. “Now, the diocese is working to develop a Disaster Risk Reduction strategy that will enable it to better prepare and respond to the increasing incidence of emergencies in Sri Lanka.”

In Central America, Tropical Storm Agatha hit during the weekend of May 29, affecting Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The deadliest tropical cyclone in the Pacific region since 1997, the storm killed more than 150 people and left thousands homeless.

Agatha brought up to three feet of rainfall in many regions, causing deadly mudslides that engulfed homes in towns and cities. In Guatemala City, the downpour led to the appearance of a 200-foot-deep crater that swallowed a three-story building.

The storm swiftly followed another disaster in Guatemala—the eruption of the Pacaya volcano. The volcano, located about 25 miles south of Guatemala City, erupted on Thursday, May 27, spewing both lava and rocks. The resulting ash caused problems with drainage and increased flooding in Agatha’s wake.

Episcopal Relief & Development is working closely with the Episcopal Diocese of Guatemala to reach those most impacted. Many Episcopal churches have been converted for use as temporary shelters and the diocese is providing food, blankets and medicine to the displaced. Support from Episcopal Relief & Development will also enable the diocese to do emergency repair work and cover associated transportation costs.

“As people begin to recover in Guatemala and Sri Lanka, it is important to remember that while these were the seasons’ first storms, they won’t be the last,” said Nesiah. “Episcopal Relief & Development and its partners will remain with these communities, helping them prepare to weather the storms still to come.”

To learn more or to support Episcopal Relief & Development’s work, please visit www.episcopal-relief.org or call 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to Episcopal Relief & Development, PO Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058.

Episcopal Relief & Development is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church of the United States and an independent 501(c)(3) organization. The agency takes its mandate from Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25. Its programs work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Together with the worldwide Church and ecumenical partners, Episcopal Relief & Development strengthens communities today to meet tomorrow’s challenges. We rebuild after disasters and empower people by offering lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.