WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for prayers for all those in the path of Hurricane Irma as it approached the United States.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, whose diocese was hit by flooding from Hurricane Harvey, noted that people in the Caribbean already had " felt Hurricane Irma's full force."
"As the people off the Gulf Coast just begin to sift through the damage brought by Hurricane Harvey, our nation, tragically, must attempt to comprehend the approach of Hurricane Irma," he said in a statement Sept. 9.
"As Irma moves rapidly toward Florida, we lift up in prayer all of those who may be impacted, asking almighty God to guide the steady hands of first responders and to widen the hearts of all who are able to be generous to neighbors facing danger, grief, or displacement of any kind due to the disaster," he said.
"Let us join in prayer for those who are in the path of Hurricane Irma, and may God bless and protect you.
"At a time like this, when our endurance is tested, we implore God to direct us to yet unknown reserves of strength and human compassion for those suffering so deeply. May our manifestations of love and solidarity be lasting signs in the midst of this crisis," he said.
The cardinal noted that, as with Harvey, the bishops' conference would work with local dioceses, Catholic relief agencies and other groups to offer assistance.
Hurricane Irma was expected to make landfall in Florida Sept. 10. The state ordered 6.3 million of the state's approximately 21 million residents to evacuate; many headed north to stay with relatives. By Sept. 9 more than 50,000 people had sought shelter in schools, community centers and churches.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned of the storm surge along the state's west coast. In the Tampa Bay area, Scott said the storm surge could be between 5 feet and 8 feet.
"This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen," he said Sept. 9.
Officials anticipated the path of the hurricane but warned it could change directions. The storm's tropical storm force winds covered about 300 miles. The Associate Press reported that officials in Georgia asked about 540,000 residents along the coast to evacuate. In South Carolina, a mandatory evacuation order was issued for eight barrier islands, including Hilton Head Island, the most populous of the islands with about 40,000 residents.
The storm battered Cuba Sept.9 after leaving a path of destruction in the Caribbean. The Netherlands estimates that 70 percent of the houses on St. Martin were badly damaged or destroyed. That left 40,000 people in public shelters as Hurricane Jose approached.
In Antigua and Barbuda Arthur Nibbs, minister of Barbuda Affairs who was on Barbuda when Irma hit, said it was the worst storm he'd ever seen.
"It was enormous. There's nothing that is comparable. It destroyed everything that was in its path," he said.
Nibbs said roofs were torn away, trees were toppled, government buildings were destroyed, and cell towers were snapped in half, leaving the small island of about 1,600 people without any form of communication.
Officials scrambled to evacuate the island before the arrival of Hurricane Jose, a category 4 storm that was expected to hit Sept. 9. But on Sept. 8, Nibbs said, some people had decided to stay on the island and ride it out.
"Nobody should take that chance. There's no support, no communication, no transportation. It's just madness," he said. "They hardly have any place for shelter."