Religious relief agencies, already faced with numerous disasters in the last year, have begun assisting survivors of a massive earthquake in South Asia.

After a 7.6-magnitude earthquake shook Pakistan, India and Afghanistan on Saturday (Oct. 8), Catholic Relief Services staffers already based in the region were able to reach victims within six hours, said Sean Callahan, vice president of overseas operations of the Baltimore-based organization.

"This year has been an incredible emergency year," said Callahan, citing drought and hunger needs on the African continent as well as the more recent hurricanes and flooding that have struck the U.S. Gulf Coast and Central America.

"Since the Sudan situation of about a year ago and then the tsunami ... this last year has been incredible."

His charity has begun preparing food and shelter items for families hit by the quake even as it continues a five-year plan for those still recovering from the late-December tsunami that hit another section of Asia.

Meanwhile, other religious relief organizations are addressing old and new needs.

Church World Service is responding with food supplies and shelter kits for survivors in Pakistan and its medical teams have started providing tetanus shots. Southern Baptist workers have furnished tents and other supplies to homeless families. Both groups also have been involved in relief efforts on the Gulf Coast.

The American Jewish World Service has begun assessing the damage in the ravaged earthquake area as it also responds to needs of Central Americans, who have been traumatized by Hurricane Stan, mudslides and a volcanic eruption since the start of October.

Other religious groups have begun seeking donations to respond to the latest crisis.

"Just as Americans came together to help the victims of recent Gulf Coast hurricanes, we must do whatever we can to help those suffering from natural disasters in other parts of the world," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group.

And even as efforts begin on the Asian catastrophe, relief agencies are advocating for those who have spent a month and a half in shelters since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and other communities.

Jim Kelly, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of New Orleans, said his organization, churches, governmental agencies and other relief groups have been overwhelmed by the volume of displaced people.

"We need help and the people in the shelters need help," he said. "Their spirits cannot last another 45 days."

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