On Feb. 7, 2017, an EF-3 tornado with winds over 135 mph devastated New Orleans East. Six other tornadoes ripped through the state, damaging or destroying 250-400 homes and injuring about two dozen people. 

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans was on the ground later that same day offering counseling, distributing food in collaboration with Second Harvest Food Bank and helping those affected begin their journey toward rebuilding. That night, Catholic Charities helped establish a shelter for the displaced that housed 93 people. Catholic Charities also partnered with VAYLA — a community-based organization that empowers youth and families through supportive services — as well as other local, faith-based and community groups in the immediate response. 

In the six weeks that followed, Catholic Charities case managers conducted intake and assessments for more than 400 individuals and families. This process involved documenting each client’s needs, allowing them to be prioritized by the severity and their level of vulnerability. CCANO housed and provided intensive case management to more than 30 individuals whose homes were uninhabitable, offering 1,190 hours of disaster case management and 80 hours of volunteer labor. By August, CCANO’s case management team had closed 165 cases out of a total of 315. This is only representative of FEMA clients, not of the total amount of individuals and families with unmet needs.

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Moving forward into long-term efforts, Catholic Charities is functioning as part of a cooperative body of nonprofits, faith-based and community organizations and government agencies making up the Long-Term Recovery Group. The group’s ultimate goal is to provide permanent disaster-resistant housing in the heart of the tornado-ravaged neighborhoods to replace those destroyed and re-establish a healthy, functioning and self-sustained community.

It is important to continue providing disaster case management for individuals and families affected by the tornado whose needs have not yet been met through the usual recovery process. One year later, CCANO continues to provide case management and support including rental assistance, food assistance and building materials. Currently, there are still 42 open cases that need moderate to major repairs. Most are individuals on fixed incomes who lack homeowner’s insurance. We hope to close these cases by year’s end. On the year anniversary, we look back to say that even in disaster, there is room for hope if we work together toward recovery.

Sr. Marjorie Hebert

president and CEO, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans

New Orleans