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Slovenians showing ‘exceptional solidarity’ after record floods, says Caritas worker

A damaged building in a flooded area in Prevalje, Slovenia, is seen Aug. 6, 2023, following heavy rains that began Aug. 4. As Slovenia recovers from catastrophic flooding, Catholic aid workers say the nation is showing "exceptional solidarity." (OSV News photo/Fedja Grulovic, Reuters)

(OSV News) — As Slovenia recovers from catastrophic flooding, Catholic aid workers told OSV News the nation is showing “exceptional solidarity.”

Record rainfall earlier this month killed at least six and caused massive damage to homes and infrastructure in two thirds of the country.

Prime Minister Robert Golob has called the flooding “the worst national disaster in Slovenia’s (recent) history,” with damage estimated at some $500 million.

Current estimates show that more than 4,000 households were seriously affected” by the flooding, Mojca Kepic of Caritas Slovenia (Slovenska Karitas) told OSV News.

The agency is part of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of over 160 Catholic relief organizations in more than 140 countries that form the official humanitarian arm of the universal Catholic Church.

“At least 121 houses are completely destroyed, 2,733 badly damaged, the rest have flooded basements and destroyed infrastructure,” said Kepic in an email to OSV News.

Yet “Slovenes are once again showing exceptional solidarity in the face of the large-scale floods,” she said.

“Cleaning and rehabilitation after the floods continues — drying, rehabilitation of apartments and gradual reconstruction,” Kepic said. “So far, we have sent 300,000 euros to the field for emergency aid and vouchers for households for urgent necessities.”

“Between 900 and 1,000 parish and diocesan Caritas volunteers … are now involved” in aiding flood victims, she said.

Speaking at an Aug. 11 press conference, Jože Kern of Caritas Slovenia in Ljubljana said “many Caritas volunteers in these areas were themselves flooded and their property was destroyed.”

The Caritas Europe network also has provided support, with 220 dehumidifiers arriving from Caritas Croatia, Austria, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic as a donation or on loan, said Kepic.

Caritas Europa also teamed up with several institutions, companies and individuals to raise close to 1.5 million euro (over $1.6 million) for aid, Kepic said.

NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre is assisting Slovenia, and on Aug. 11 Golob welcomed members of the state emergency service of Ukraine, currently battling a full-scale invasion by Russia. The team drove 16 hours with a convoy of heavy machinery to assist with flood response in Slovenia’s Upper Savinja Valley.

“With every aid package delivered, with every shovel that we plant in the … gravel, with the swing of a broom, there is still hope that we bring to people in need,” said Bishop Andrej Saje of Novo Mesto, president of the Slovenian bishops’ conference, at an Aug. 11 press conference.

Peter Tomažic, secretary general of Caritas Slovenia, said at the press conference that while “material help is most needed at this moment … people also need conversation, psychosocial help and spirituality.”

The full impact of the floods is only just beginning to dawn on victims, said Darko Bracun of Caritas Slovenia in the Diocese of Maribor at the press conference.

“They started to realize what they have been through,” he said. “Many are left speechless by their experiences.”

Tomažic said Caritas Slovenia has created an online counseling portal for flood victims, who can register for free sessions through the organization’s website.

“This is a place where you can express yourself, share your feelings and receive support in a safe environment. Anyone who feels the need to talk is welcome,” he said, noting the resource has been “well received by affected individuals and families.”

Volunteers in the field also are bringing psychological and spiritual comfort to victims, said Matej Pirnat of Caritas Slovenia in Celje.

“(They) bring the message that people are not alone,” said Pirnat. Above all, they talk to people, they help them articulate the traumas, articulate the terrible feelings and fears they experienced during these floods.”

“Despite the pain, the gratitude is immense,” said Kepic.

Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News.

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