Sisters in Louisiana, California and Kenya share their experiences living through major natural disasters that scientists say are occurring with greater frequency and fury because of rising global temperatures – all amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
WRITTEN BY SR. KATHLEEN DALY, CCVI
San Bernardino, CA – It is difficult to grasp the magnitude of the fires burning in the West Coast especially in our lovely state California. We are daily confronted by the unbelievable devastation of lives, homes, businesses properties, etc.
At the same time we are grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic. St. Bernardine Hospital is doing well coping with the many patients we receive with the virus. We are grateful for strong and compassionate leadership and dedicated employees. Our hospital president, Doug Kleam, is focused and knowledgeable in the skills of leadership. Every person is important in contributing to the success and well being of all who work here, or enter our hospital as patients.
Our chaplain, Fr. Edmund, SVD offers Masses from Tuesday to Saturday and patients can view through T.V. in their rooms. While our pains are real, we are full of hope and confident in God’s Divine Mercy and His continual love for each person.
We are Srs. Ursula, Alice Mary, Kathleen serving in the hospital and Sr. Cecilia is teaching at Aquinas High School.
WRITTEN BY SR. GERARD EARLS, CCVI
Lake Charles, LA – On the morning of August 27, 2020, Hurricane Laura bashed into Lake Charles, Louisiana with ferocious force of winds up to 150 miles an hour. It has been one of the worst hurricanes to have hit Lake Charles in years — worse than Hurricane Rita by any comparison. In comparing it to Rita, it was said that Rita’s damage was more from water while damage from Hurricane Laura was that of high winds. As Sr. Mary Kamara and I pondered what to do, we were in a dilemma to evacuate to Houston ahead of it because the weather predictions were not too comforting — the storm was aimed for Houston! As we prayed and waited for daily and ongoing updates from the weather bureau, time was running out to attempt a drive out of town to Houston. The man, from whom we are renting our present convent, Teach Mhuire, invited us to stay with him and his wife and so we did.
We felt very secure having other adults around as we sat up throughout the night listening to the howling wind and rain and watched the neighbor’s house next door go up in flames. We felt very safe in the comfortable and sturdy structure of our landlord’s home. I couldn’t help but think of what it must have been like for our Sisters and children in the 1900 Galveston Storm. We prayed the words “Queen of the Waves” and felt very present to their tragedy. I will tell you that I was never so happy to see daylight! The daylight gave us the true perspective of the horrific damage, not only to our neighborhoods but to the whole community of Lake Charles. Two words described the aftermath — SEVERE DEVASTATION!
The question that comes to mind is where and how does one begin to start again. It is simply from a deep faith and a resilience to go on. With power lines down for miles around resulting in no electricity, trees down everywhere blocking every road that made transportation impassable, and with extensive damage to radio and TV station, there was little or no communication.
” I COULDN’T HELP BUT THINK OF WHAT IT MUST HAVE BEEN LIKE FOR OUR SISTERS AND CHILDREN IN THE 1900 GALVESTON STORM. WE PRAYED THE WORDS “QUEEN OF THE WAVES” AND FELT VERY PRESENT TO THEIR TRAGEDY. “
Access to water was in short supply. Within 24 hours, clean-up crews started pouring in as people began assessing the damage to their property. Food trucks, as well as other support services, were arriving in town to provide the basic necessities as there were no grocery stores or pharmacies open. As one day rolled into another, there was a glimmer of hope seen as the log companies began cutting up the large trees and clearing main roads for necessary commuting, as well as electrical companies accessing the power damage to poles and transformers. Our street, Orchard Drive, opened up one way which allowed Sr. Mary and I access and so we felt it was safe enough to make our way to Houston on Sunday.
Now that we have the security of “being home” we feel blessed and grateful for all the prayers and concern on our behalf. We continue to pray for the many friends, neighbors, and residents who are faced with the daily reality of beginning to rebuild their lives and their communities.
Repeat Floods In West Pokot Bring Suffering, Bewilderment
WRITTEN BY SR. MAURINE CHEMNUNG PANGALE, CCVI
Memories of the devastation caused by heavy rains in West Pokot County, Kenya will remain fresh among the Pokot people for many generations to come. As people were still trying to come to terms with the pain caused by last year’s historic floods, they were struck again on April 18th with yet another deluge. The destruction was the worst in the country, including in the number of lives lost. This occurred in Chesegon, which lies within my home Parish near the border of West Pokot and Elgeyo-Marakwet Counties.
After being encouraged by some of our Sisters and Associates, I am writing about these two events because the floods affected me personally. Last year, the rains came as I was returning from my home visit, just three days before I was set to travel to the U.S. for my International Experience. This year’s floods took place while I was in Colorado.
I’ll start with last year, when the rain caused even more damage than this year. On 24th, November, 2019, heavy rain that had never been recorded in the County’s history caused much damage. The floods and landslides claimed 58 lives across the above Wards; 450 homes were destroyed. The water displaced 10,000 to 12,000 people. Families whose homes were swept away lost everything. The flood destroyed eight bridges as well as cut off roads paralyzing road transportation to different parts. Around 200 vehicles were stuck; schools were affected; an unknown number of animals were killed; crops were destroyed and the falling trees took out electricity.
Rescue scenes from an April flood in West Pokot County. Historic rain fall in 2019 and 2020 have devastated local communities. West Pokot is the home of Sr. Maurine Pangale.
The value of property damage was estimated to be in the billions, according to government officials. The news headlines read: ‘’Darkness, Death and Disaster in West Pokot County’’. Our Governor mobilized Emergency Rescue Teams from the County and called the National Government to make rescues down the rivers and to search for people unaccounted for. Sometimes they could only recover parts. The images were disturbing. He also requested help from other counties, NGOs, and the public for food and non-food items. One family lost seven children in a mud-slide which covered the house burying them alive. Those who survived the tragedy but sustained injuries were airlifted different hospitals which were quickly overwhelmed with victims. The night of the worst flooding was the same night I arrived home for my short-home-visit made possible by a delay in getting the U.S. Visa I needed for my International Experience. The whole night was characterized by sharp lightning and thunderstorms. I recall waking up in the middle of the night to check that my family members were safe. In the morning, when I heard about the impact of the rain in other parts of the county, I was shocked!
I was unsure how I would be able to make it back to the convent so that I could make my flight to the U.S. only a few days later on Nov. 28th. I learned I might travel on the rivers, so I started my journey as planned. I used different modes of transportation — motorbike, truck, Public Service Vehicles, and by walking to connect from one river to another. I also crossed a river where the water level was above my waist. Some men helped me cross by holding my hands. During my trip back to Molo, I witnessed the damage and the rescue operations. I was able to spend one night in my sister’s home before leaving the following day to finish my journey to the convent. To my great relief, I finally arrived to my happy Sisters who said they had been praying for me.
The affected people in West Pokot were still recovering when again, on April 18th of this year, they were hit by heavy rain. It largely affected Chesegon area in the Border of West Pokot and Elgeyo-Marakwet Counties. The heavy rain in the mountains caused floods and a landslide that led to huge damage in the valley, killing at least 12, with many more missing. In addition, Chesegon town shared by the two counties was swept away; several schools including the Teachers Training College were carried away with the powerful waters along with a school bus and other vehicles. Around 30 people climbed trees while others got stuck in the mud. One Sister from another congregation who I know from my Parish lost her own uncle and sister. It was the nightmare all over again.
This time, though, I was in Colorado Springs, worried sick for my family and community. I was happy to learn that my family was safe as I prayed for God’s continued protection. The sad news was even more heart-breaking knowing the people were still healing from last year’s devastation. On top of this destruction, there was also a plague of locusts which came in between. Our Governor who was at the time working on the previous year’s damages as well as COVID-19 had to again mobilize local and national rescue efforts. It was very encouraging to see different agencies responding as they had the previous year. Their efforts were commendable! There was love, hope, unity and resilience. From the two traumatic experiences, I think the people of West Pokot are still wondering whether this natural disaster will recur, and if it will, when, where and what losses will be incurred. Since challenges are inevitable and they vary from one place to another, this is our story.
N.B. I am most grateful to the Sisters, members of the Leadership Team, and the Formation Team who assisted me with the recovering of my U. S. Visa. God bless you all!