Following Hurricane Katrina's catastrophic strike on the Gulf Coast, Habitat for Humanity International is announcing an emergency appeal for funds to help Habitat families and other low-income families in the affected areas recover and rebuild.

"We are praying for the best, but at the same time, preparing for the worst," said Paul Leonard, Habitat's chief executive officer. "While Hurricane Katrina's full impact won't be known for some time, this much is clear: many families in the hardest hit areas were living in severe poverty even before Katrina hit, and most of these families have little chance of ever rebuilding without our help."

In addition to the emergency appeal, Habitat's Disaster and Emergency Services unit, when conditions allow, will dispatch teams to check on Habitat families who lived in the storm's destructive path and others. Team members will move quickly to provide whatever immediate assistance they can, then begin to plan for short- and long-term assistance for Habitat partner families, volunteers and Habitat affiliates in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida impacted by the storm.

"This has been an extraordinary year of need," said Leonard. "We have never lost a Habitat home to a hurricane before, but we've also never been faced with a storm this powerful. This is a devastating event. What the winds did not destroy or damage, the rain and flooding have certainly taken their toll.

"Last year's hurricanes - Charley, Frances and Ivan, then the tsunami that struck the coastlines of South Asia, have created an unprecedented level of need. Like other NGOs, we are committed to providing whatever help we can, wherever we can, and we are committed to providing that help as long as the need remains," said Leonard.