While the Republican National Convention (RNC) convenes in Florida, the National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning for Louisiana and the panhandle of Florida on August 27 and the Southeastern diocese of Florida is preparing for Isaac to hit landfall.
The National Hurricane Service expect Isaac to pick up speed once it enters the Gulf of Mexico, possibly becoming a level two hurricane before making landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday morning.
The National Hurricane Center, in an advisory at 1 p.m. EDT, warned of dangerous surf and rip currents that would continue to affect the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys during the next day or so, and would begin to affect portions of the Gulf Coast later today. Isolated tornadoes also are possible from Central Florida through the northeastern Gulf Coast today and tonight, the advisory noted. Maximum sustained winds are currently recorded at 65 mph with tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 240 miles from the center. Storm surges are expected to reach 12 feet along some coastal areas.
August 29 is the anniversary of Katrina and in memory of that, four coastal Episcopal Diocese in Louisiana, Mississippi, the Central Gulf Coast, and Florida prepare for Isaac’s arrival.
When Isaac hit Haiti, the Episcopal diocese there mobilized efforts to help those in need. The hurricane killed 12 people and temporarily displaced almost 40,000 people.
Despite the losses, Diocese of Haiti Bishop Suffragan Oge Beauvoir, who is based in Cap Haitien in the northern part of the diocese, wrote in an e-mail Aug. 27 that Haiti appeared to have been “spared” from the worst of Isaac. “God has heard your prayers … There is not too much damage, so far … We thank God for that.”
The Episcopal dioceses are asked to preparations for themselves and, where possible, for their parishioners. Clergy are to remind people to move inland and stay with friends, staying away from rivers. They also remind people to stockpile bottles of water.
The Miami-based offices of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida were closed Aug. 27 as a precautionary measure because the outer bands of the storm were still producing heavy rain and squalls in the area.
Mary Cox, director of communications for the Southeast Florida diocese, which also includes the Florida Keys, said she was not aware of any significant problems in the region. “Our major concern, of course, is for our companion dioceses of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As soon as we hear from them about specific needs, I’m sure we’ll be organizing assistance. And like everybody else, we’re praying for our neighbors on the Gulf Coast,” she wrote in an e-mail to ENS.
The diocese in the Dominican Republic reported they were fine, but cleaning up after “lots of rain”.
The dioceses scheduled conference calls after the storm passes, in order to access the needs. The diocese website also posted important storm information concerning Isaac, with links to weather and emergency services.
As Isaac continues on its path towards the Gulf Coast, Bishop of Louisiana Morris K. Thompson Jr. wrote to diocesan leaders Aug. 27, saying that while the forecast likely “brings with it more than just the normal anxiety associated with hurricanes, as it comes on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, in times like this it is important that we keep strong in our faith and know that God is still God. So, as people are fond of saying, we prepare for the worst and pray for the best.”
Thompson underscored the importance of taking precautions now “to protect ourselves and those in our care. We should know where our family members, our close friends and (for those in church leadership positions) our parishioners are going to be over the coming days, and they should know our plans.”
In Mississippi, the Rev. Carol Borne Spencer, diocesan coordinator for disaster preparedness and response, is not taking any chances and told others in an email that the diocese’s disaster and preparedness task force is offering assistance to those who need it, reminding them of the handbook for congregations and personal preparedness.
“I know this is ‘old news’ to some of you who have been through this drill before,” said Spencer, but “I would rather err on the side of caution. I pray that each of you on the coast err on this side of over-preparedness as well.”
Spencer, coordinator for outreach and mission at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jackson, also asked the clergy to keep Mississippi Bishop Duncan Gray III “informed of your status, personal and congregational, after the storm passes … Please don’t forget to check on your most vulnerable members who may not have others to help them prepare … I am praying for everyone’s safety.”
The Rev. Scott Lenoir, editor of The Mississippi Episcopalian and assisting priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ocean Springs, told ENS that he will be in “full prep mode like everyone else” in the diocese. He said that his church would stay open Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, when the storm is expected to make landfall, as several parishioners live in flood-prone areas and his church sits at a higher elevation.
Lenoir serves on the Episcopal disaster task force, which created a database of information that people can use as a reference during a crisis and although the Alabama diocese is not in the path of the storm, they stand ready to assist also.
Episcopal Relief & Development continues to be in regular contact with partners in the affected dioceses and is standing by to offer support and assistance.
While Haiti is a big focus of the Episcopal Relief & Development, it does more than just work with Haitians. Responding to disasters is one of their four core areas.
Meanwhile, Isaac delays the RNC by a day and despite the hurricane service saying that Isaac shows potential to become a catagory 2 hurricane, the RNC decided to reconvene its convention.
Scott said that Florida was prepared for the storm — and the convention. “We’re a state that knows how to do hurricanes. We don’t like them, but we know how to do them,” Scott said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We do hurricanes well and we do hospitality well, and this week we’ve got to show both sides.”
“Everybody was thrilled, obviously,” Costa said. “But in the back of your mind you know [severe weather is] a possibility. It’s just one of those imponderable things that you can’t know.”
According to the National Examiner, the RNC is at a low-lying area in downtown Tampa, but at this time, the National Weather Service does not expect Tampa to receive a direct hit from Isaac. At this time, it appears to be gaining strength and heading for New Orleans.
Meanwhile the Episcopal dioceses are still preparing for disaster relief, if necessary, from Louisiana to the pan-handle of Florida and will help those attending the RNC too, if needed.