BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) -- The line of destruction caused by historic flooding in southern Louisiana stretches for 25 miles, and according to Red Cross officials, it is the worst natural disaster in the United States since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
"As we all know the severe flooding in many areas of our diocese has dramatically affected the well-being and livelihood of countless people," said Baton Rouge Bishop Robert W. Muench in a videotaped message posted to the diocese's website, www.diobr.org.
"To those so impacted I express genuine empathy, heartfelt solidarity and commitment to help as best as we can," he said, adding his thanks "to those who have so impressively and sacrificially reached out to serve." He called the "outpouring of concern" extraordinary in "our area and beyond." On Aug. 14, Bishop Muench visited three evacuation shelters to comfort evacuees.
In his video message, the bishop directed those who want to donate money or goods to go to the diocesan website. He said the site has information on how to donate and a list of stores run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that are taking donations of canned goods, clothes, cleaning supplies and even furniture for those who have lost everything.
News reports said the civil entity of East Baton Rouge Parish was the hardest hit of parishes in the region by the heavy rains that fell Aug. 11-14. In some areas, as much as 2 feet of rain fell in 48 hours; in another, more than 31 inches of rain fell in 15 hours.
Civil authorities reported that at least 13 people died in the floods and that about 60,000 homes were damaged, although a Baton Rouge economic development group put the number of damaged houses at 110,000. The Red Cross put the overall cost of recovery at $30 million.
"Thousands of people in Louisiana have lost everything they own and need our help now," Brad Kieserman, the Red Cross' vice president of disaster services operations and logistics, told CNN.
Four feet of water inundated the new Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, which had just opened Aug. 5.
In such a short time, "we'd experienced growth as a family, with the students, with the faculty," said Jim Llorens, the school's president, who called the flooding "heartbreaking." The brand-new school building is closed while school officials assess the damage and find another location to hold classes.
"It was really beginning to come together as a true Cristo Rey family, so we have to regroup ... and make sure we don't lose that," Llorens said in an interview with the diocese's CatholicLife Television apostolate and The Catholic Commentator, the diocesan newspaper.
The newspaper and the TV outlet have produced a series of six videos on the flood and its aftermath. Titled "When the Waters Rose," the series can be viewed at www.catholiclifetv.org in the site's "Programming" section.
In another of the videos a mom and her children, all members of St. Margaret Parish, were helping flood victims -- even though the family had their own losses, including their house and three vehicles.
"We are fortunate we have each other and that's a blessing. We have a lot of friends in the same situation," the mom told a reporter. "We're just very thankful we're able to give back ... and people have blessed us very much in clothes and water and such. We're just doing a little bitty bit of what we can do (for others)."