Authorities in several states ordered people to evacuate from the path of Hurricane Ivan, which is expected to make landfall early Thursday near the Alabama city of Mobile. Hundreds of thousands of residents fled as the storm bore down on the US Gulf Coast threatening more of the deadly devastation it spread across the Caribbean.
One of the strongest storms on record, Ivan swept through nine countries and the wealthy British territory of the Cayman Islands before spinning Tuesday into the Gulf of Mexico. The hurricane killed 68 people and left a trail of destruction across the Caribbean — thousands of homes torn apart, vast areas flooded and life paralyzed on islands where gargantuan recovery efforts lie ahead. From 200 miles away, it brewed up a gigantic wave that drowned four children on a beach in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo.
Ivan made an especially damaging direct hit last Thursday on Grenada, leaving 60 percent of the already impoverished country homeless and many victims in dire need of food and drinking water.
Even on islands with no reported deaths, such as the Caymans, Ivan left thousands homeless.
"This is going to set people back right through the Caribbean," said Weston White, 35, a Jamaican whose seaside home east of Kingston had waves crash into it, sucking out furniture and leaving three feet of sand.
"It's going to be a long time before we recover from this," White told the Associated Press. "Right now we need some help from the government, or a lot of people are going to be sleeping on the street."
Recently, global humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS) reported that has expedited a fast-track initial shipment of emergency health kits to residents of the Bahamas, hard hit by Hurricane Frances last week scheduled to arrive today in Freeport.
Headquartered in New York, CWS says it partnered with the Washington-based Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC) in shipping the $60,000 worth of health kits that contain basic hygiene items often vital in post-hurricane and other disaster situations. Discovery Cruise Lines is providing free passage from Florida for the shipment and for aid workers to the Bahamas.
CWS Director of Emergency Response Programs Rick Augsburger says the agency is now planning deployment and placement of its domestic disaster response and recovery team, based on impacts along Ivan’s path to date and as Ivan’s effects on the Gulf Coast become known. Ivan was downgraded yesterday to a Category 4 storm.
As part of CWS’ Caribbean response, Progressive National Baptist’s Rev. Justus Reeves, Executive Director, Mission Ministries, is collaborating with Church World Service on its initial Bahamian emergency response and will travel to Freeport next week, "to help assess the needs of those in the Bahamas who suffered from Frances’ damage."
“As of today, there hasn’t been much news on the extent of damage and the needs of the people in the Bahamas,” said CWS Executive Director and CEO Rev. John L. McCullough.
“But contacts there are telling us,” he said, “that there is little food or water available in Freeport, given that these relentless storms have made it difficult for the usual supplies to be brought into the islands.” McCullough said that the Bahamas normally rely on food and water supplies that are shipped into the country.
McCullough expressed concern for all areas of the Caribbean impacted by the season’s storms and affirmed the agency’s support for the region. "In the Caribbean, Church World Service is committed to assisting partner agencies, including our long-time partners, the Cuban Council of Churches and the Caribbean Conference of Churches, with material resources, technical assistance and other supports."
In Florida, CWS’ disaster response team has been working since Hurricane Charley and will continue assessment and outreach to communities and vulnerable populations affected by Charley and Frances, developing contacts and structures for long-term recovery efforts. That effort will expand to respond to further outcomes from Ivan.
Also, at the request of Florida church leaders, Church World Service has dispatched a team of trauma specialists to assess and provide care-for-the-caregiver support and training for caregivers and emergency workers already depleted by response to two hurricanes in less than a month.
To those who want to help victims of the season’s devastating storms, CWS’ Augsburger counsels, "contribute money rather than material goods, as FEMA has encouraged."
Augsburger recommends, "Look to experienced volunteer disaster response agencies first, like Church World Service, one recognized for a particular role in disaster response. These agencies provide valuable assistance for people to rebuild their lives. Yet they’re often strapped for funds for these vital services."
Recently, the European Commission said it was sending 1.5 million euros (1.8 million dollars) and Canada pledged 500,000 Canadian dollars (385,000 US dollars) to aid the Caribbean nations hit by deadly Hurricane Ivan, while the International Monetary Fund said it "stands ready to help the affected member countries ... in any waiy it can."
Meanwhile, in Florida, Governor Jeb Bush has extended a state of emergency over the entire state, which is still mopping up from the ravages earlier this month by Hurricane Frances and last month by Charley.