Hurricane Hanna: Emergency at the Border

COVID-19 and Hurricane Hit the Rio Grande Valley

Their health ravaged by COVID-19 and their homes flooded by Hurricane Hanna, poor faith communities in the Rio Grande Valley need a hand up

The Rio Grande Valley in Texas has the highest rates of poverty in the country, yet the people have always been known for their generous spirit. They serve those with the greatest need living in their midst.  

Today, the need is perhaps greater than ever. 

The COVID-19 infection rate has spiked and overwhelmed local hospitals in this south Texas region on the U.S.-Mexico border. The community was already exhausted by the disease when Hurricane Hanna spurred two cyclones. Winds and 15 inches of rain damaged homes in poor neighborhoods. Houses in these “colonias,” are often made of little more than particle board.  

Meanwhile, due to the economic downturn and social distancing restrictions, the Catholic Extension-supported Diocese of Brownsville needs help. The diocese does not have the resources and capabilities to respond to the compounding emergency. 

Facing the Flood

Daniel Flores, Bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville, provided heartbreaking details.  “For many years, and even in the pandemic, the Church, with Extension’s help, had well-organized systems in place to get food, water, hygiene supplies, diapers and formula to the poor in the colonias.”

“We do not have the right kind of trucks and equipment desperately needed to deliver much needed aid over ‘the last mile’ of road that has been overtaken by the flood waters.”    

Flooding from Hurricane Hanna in the Rio Grande Valley

As the river rose, time was just barely on the side of asylum-seekers living in a tent city across the border. That’s where Sister Norma Pimental, MJ, Executive Director of Catholic Charities in the Rio Grande Valley, worked frantically to move more than 1,000 migrants out of harms way.

Immigrant tent city after Hurricane Hanna

Sister Norma is now working with local officials and partner organizations to help the people in the Rio Grande Valley. Many families remain without electricity, and their homes are under water due to Hurricane Hanna.

Young girl stands in flooding after Hurricane Hanna

Compounding Emergencies Hit the Poor

Elsewhere in the heavily-flooded and widely-infected Hidalgo County, Sister Fatima Santiago, ICM, described the desperation of Catholic Extension-supported communities she serves in poor neighborhoods.

Without electricity, her cell phone connection faded in and out as she explained that people of every age are getting sick. This includes employees who operate a after-school program, free medical/dental clinic and community garden in the community.  For the past several months, she delivered essential aid to families in the area. Due to the huge need in the area, she prioritized single mothers, households with diabetic amputees, and cancer patients. 

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish sits in one of the poorest areas of the Rio Grande Valley. It is a short two miles from the border with Mexico, in Pharr, TX, and the parish has a long served residents with extreme need.  

In a normal week they feed up to 1,000 people from their parish kitchen and food distribution center, which was built and upgraded by a Catholic Extension grant in 2018.  But the need in the community increased dramatically after the hurricane. Many residents’ substandard housing flooded in the storm.

Hurricane Hanna has caused power and internet outages. COVID-19 restrictions continue, and the situation is critical.

“We’re accustomed to challenges here in The Valley,” stated Bishop Flores.  

“We have a saying in Spanish: ‘Hay que echarle ganas.’ We have to give it all we’ve got. There’s a toughness in our people, even if it’s with a broken heart. We know God is with us.”

Please donate today to support those suffering in the poor colonias of the Rio Grande.

Subscribe for weekly stories sent to your inbox