Records and remembrances

Hurricane Patricia on Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, at approximately 3:15 p.m. Central. (Screenshot from Google Earth)

Mexico entered last weekend with Hurricane Patricia — the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere — bearing down on the country’s Pacific coast, packing sustained 200 mph winds and gusts of 245 mph. That’s the equivalent of an F3 tornado 150 miles wide. The gusts were the equivalent of an F4 tornado.

What’s that mean? An F3 tornado can overturn a train, uproot most of the trees in a forest, tear the roof off even a well-constructed home and can even pick up and toss heavy automobiles. An F4 tornado can level well-constructed houses and structures with weak foundations be blown some distance away.

Before Patricia, only one Category 5 hurricane had been recorded hitting Mexico’s Pacific Coast, when a storm on a similar path in 1959 caused 1,800 deaths.

Even as forecasters were issuing warnings and officials were evacuating cities, aid agencies were gearing up to provide the help victims are expected to need.

Catholic Relief Services was already coordinating its response, and Oxfam said Friday it already had teams in place in Mexico to respond once the storm passed.

And then, what appeared to be an epic disaster in the making turned into . . . very little.

The winds dropped to 165 mph by the time the storm made landfall, and the coastal mountains weakened it further. And landfall was in a remote, sparsely populated area.

As The Los Angeles Times put it Sunday: “Skies are clear, highways are flowing with traffic and airports across the western coast of Mexico are open.

“The official death count from the strongest hurricane ever measured in the Western Hemisphere: zero.”

Mexican officials attributed the incredible news to advance planning and preparations.

Even when the storm’s remnants moved into Texas where it caused flash flooding, there were no deaths, Reuters reported, despite nine inches of rain falling.

This is one case were we can be very, very happy the forecasters got it wrong.

Trip to memorialize martyrs

December 2 will mark the 35th anniversary of the kidnapping, rape and murder of Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel, lay missioner Jean Donovan, and Maryknoll Srs. Maura Clarke and Ita Ford in El Salvador in 1980.

To mark the anniversary, SHARE El Salvador, along with LCWR, is leading a delegation to El Salvador, where they will make a pilgrimage to the martyrdom site to hear first-hand testimonies by people who knew them. SHARE has spearheaded the initiative to declare this site a national historic monument and is working to make this effort come to fruition during the pilgrimage.

The trip also includes a visit to the martyrdom site of Archbishop Romero and the Memorial Wall. The trip, open to men and women religious as well as lay people, is $1,200 plus airfare. Get more information here.

SHARE strengthens solidarity with and among the Salvadoran people in El Salvador and the United States in the struggle for economic sustainability, justice, and human and civil rights.

Letters bring voices back to life

October marks the anniversary of the murder of five sisters in Liberia. Adorers of the Blood of Christ Srs. Barbara Ann Muttra, Shirley Kolmer, Kathleen McGuire, Agnes Mueller and Mary Joel Kolmer were slain in 1992 by soldiers in the army of Charles Taylor, the Liberian warlord convicted by an international court for crimes against humanity.

The Adorers recently released a haunting video: Sr. Toni Cusimano spent 15 years serving in Liberia, but left in 1990 as the civil war heated up. Cusimano died of a stroke in July at age 79; after her death she was found to possess some of the last letters the martyrs sent before their death.

The letters are both personal and carry the easy familiarity of a conversation with someone who knew the area, their work and the people. Hearing them read aloud is like hearing the martyrs speak from the grave. It is three minutes you won’t easily forget.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]

Explore our Resources Page to learn more about Catholic sisters around the world.