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Winter storm disaster for Cheyenne River Sioux reservation

Episcopal Relief and Development is responding to the winter disaster that has befallen the Cheyenne River Sioux in North Dakota.

A news release from ERD says:

On January 20, the Episcopal Dioceses of North and South Dakota were affected by a devastating ice storm and subsequent blizzard that left more than 14,000 people without power or access to clean water.  In the wake of this disaster, Episcopal Relief & Development has responded to requests for emergency aid from the Dioceses of North and South Dakota.

The already shaky infrastructure of indigenous communities living on the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Reservations was further crippled by the storm.  The severe weather downed over 3,000 power poles.  Resulting power outages led to the loss of perishable food items and to equipment malfunctions at the local water treatment facilities, contaminating the region's supply of drinking water. Freezing temperatures caused significant damage to most families' furnaces and the pipes in many residences froze and burst.  It is estimated that most homes will sustain $2,000 to $5,000 in damages.

The Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, which is home to 14 Episcopal congregations, has declared a state of emergency.  On both reservations, emergency shelters have been created in schools, community centers and churches to accommodate those left living without heat and hot water.  People are sharing the scarce resources available to them.

A quick search of Google News found only a handful of news reports. Among them, MSNBC and USA Today.

Cathy Lynn Grossman at USA Today noted that this disaster unfolded at the same time that Haiti's earthquake rescue effort became a recovery mission and their plight held our attention.

Does it help to show a photo, like the one here of dancers from Cheyenne River on a lovely summer day years ago, to give faces to real people who have desperate needs today?

Are we like the applauding audience on that old TV show Queen For A Day where the housewife with the most piteous tale and the greatest audience response could win a new fridge?

Do we move faster to help the cute, the convenient, the folks who tell the saddest story? Why do some causes get snowed with aid while others don't?

Grossman talks about the response of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota, which is planning a special offering for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany (aka Valentines Day, as the newspaper put it).

Although the storm has passed, reports indicate that some areas could be without power for up to a month while services are restored.  With no heat, electricity or running water, these communities continue to face temperatures well below freezing.  They are bracing for the possibility that this winter's worst storms are yet to come.  The most severe winter weather usually does not hit this area until March or April.

In North Dakota, the diocese will use emergency funds to provide critical relief in the form of lodging and food.  Once immediate needs have been met, they will begin restoration work on area residences damaged by the storm.  The Diocese of South Dakota will employ emergency funds to provide food, mend broken pipes, restore access to clean water and supply propane for heating homes.

"Although much of the world's focus is on the problems in Haiti, it is crucial that we do not forget those in need here at home," said Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development's Senior Vice President for Programs.  "Episcopal Relief & Development is committed to supporting the communities of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Reservations as they recover from these storms and get back to life as normal."

As we dig out of our own snowstorm, give thanks for the basic infrastructure like power, reliable water and snow removal. Connect to Episcopal Relief and Development here.

--posted by Andrew Gerns

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