By Susan J. Meister, Domestic Disaster Response CorrespondentFrom UMCOR Bright Spots, January 2009
“We thought Rita was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ storm,” said Miss Barbara. Damage to her home in Dulac, La., had been repaired by volunteers and the Louisiana Conference disaster recovery ministry, an UMCOR partner. “We were all done except the gutter,” she sighed.Miss Barbara’s home. Miss Barbara’s home, repaired after Rita, suffered additional damage from Hurricane Ike. Photo by Susan J. Meister
When Hurricane Ike roared in last fall, its tidal surge was 18 inches higher than Rita. A ramp, floors, and more in Miss Barbara’s home needed to be repaired again. A student volunteer group from Union College, New York, was busy with the work as Mr. Darryl Guy, construction supervisor, checked in. “The flooding was higher than Rita,” he confirmed. “Even properties elevated after the 2005 hurricane were not high enough. Now people in Houma (La.) are getting their feet wet.”
For many, Gustav is the storm that missed New Orleans, and Ike is the storm that hit Galveston, Tex. But for residents of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes southwest of New Orleans, the storms didn’t miss anyone. High winds from Gustav took their toll and Hurricane Ike pushed flood waters over levees in the Louisiana parishes.Dulac Community Center at Hub of Multi-storm Recovery Effort
Dulac Community Center is one of 103 National Mission Institutions of the General Board of Global Ministries. It has a long history of improving the quality of life for area residents. In 2006, the Louisiana Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry expanded operations into the parish. That summer, new volunteer housing was made possible through a grant issued by UMCOR.
Volunteers from around the country have traveled to Dulac to help with the Rita rebuilding effort. In 2009, that effort continues to respond to new needs.Students from Union College Students from Union College, New York, cut new paneling underneath a home in Dulac, raised ten feet from ground level. Photo by Susan J. Meister
Mr. John Paul McGuire, volunteer and former disaster recovery staff member, traveled to Dulac shortly after Gustav to assess the damage and was there when Ike stormed through the state. “It was just heartbreaking,” Mr. McGuire said. “Some of the homes had escaped damage from Gustav and with their owners, I celebrated their good fortune. Then they were caught by Ike.”
Under the leadership of Executive Director Ms. Jaime Billiot, the Community Center opened shortly after Gustav. But it took longer to clean up after Ike, which pushed five feet of water and mud into the gymnasium building. Even the disaster recovery ministry was affected. Three shipping containers of rebuilding supplies stored on the property were ruined by flood waters.Conference Ministry Realigns to Address Needs
Louisiana disaster recovery leadership is realigning its ministry to continue Katrina and Rita recovery work, and address the new damage caused by Gustav and Ike throughout the conference.Raised homes Homes along the bayou in Terrebone Parish are raised to reduce the effects of flooding. Photo by Susan J. Meister
“The Louisiana Family Recovery Corps (LFRC) has granted us $1 million to help repair homes in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes,” reports the Rev. Amy Mercer, deputy director. The response in the area will be administered through the southeast station, headed by Mr. Dale Kimball, while the southwest station shifts its focus to Cameron Parish and the surrounding area hit by Rita and Ike.
The Rev. Curtis Eden, who serves the southeast station as hospitality coordinator, is hard at work in Houma and Thibodaux (north of Dulac) to set up case management and volunteer housing to respond to needs in those communities. She has already trained eight volunteers to do assessments. Rev. Eden is also seeking to hire a case manager who, she adds, must be fluent in French to speak to the residents. “We already have fifty applications,” she said, “and we’re just getting started!”
Long term volunteers Wayne and Regan Wooley returned to Dulac in early January to begin construction and case management services. Mr. Wooley had been helping Mr. Maquire with assessments after Gustav.
“My first response was also heartbreak,” he said. “What turned me around was talking to the families – they were disappointed, but upbeat. They were determined to continue with their lives in the area they know and love.”
For more information about the ongoing Louisiana Conference disaster response ministry, go to the LA Storm Center web site. Volunteers are needed for 2009 and beyond. Financial gifts to Hurricanes 2008, UMCOR Advance #3019695 will help meet the needs for materials and for the rebuilding effort along the whole Gulf Coast.LA Storm CenterHurricanes 2008, UMCOR Advance #3019695UMCOR Still “On The Ground” Along Gulf CoastAs rebuilding and recovery continues, signs along the Gulf Coast celebrated faith in God and the work of God’s people. Photo by Susan J. Meister/UMCOR
Through the generosity of United Methodist donors and volunteers, UMCOR has been rebuilding the homes and lives of thousands of survivors of seven major hurricanes since 2004. In cooperation with the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama-West Florida and Florida Annual Conferences, UMCOR has offered case management and construction services, hosting tens of thousands of volunteers.
“It has been an unprecedented response,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR executive. “Seven storms – Dennis, Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Gustav, Ike. Some residents suffered damage from more than one storm, or were nearly finished with rebuilding when another storm hit. But UMCOR and its partners have been there to offer help and hope.”
Since mid-2006, Bright Spots has featured just a few of the thousands of stories of hope and courage of storm survivors, as well as the compassion and generosity of the people of The United Methodist Church. Volunteers and staff have truly been the hands and feet of Jesus, forging powerful relationships with homeowners and each other.Stories Celebrate Survival and Hope
Mr. Edward, who survived Katrina by holding onto a bus outside his home in Pearlington, Miss., on August 29, 2005, celebrated with smiles and tears at the dedication of his new home in May, 2008. His home was rebuilt with the help of Mississippi United Methodist Disaster Response. “Everybody did a beautiful job!” he cried. “God bless everybody.”
Miss Montreal’s rebuilt home in Gentilly District of Orleans Parish was dedicated during Thanksgiving, 2007, to the memories of the late Virginia Tech students Ryan Lark and Leslie Sherman. Lark and Sherman were part of the volunteer teams in New Orleans, who worked with the Louisiana Conference Disaster Response Ministry. Miss Hattie celebrated the angels who helped clean up and rebuild from Rita in Delcambre, La. “Strangers walked into our lives and when they left they were friends,” she said.
In Port Arthur, Texas, volunteers repaired roof and floor damage in Miss Deloris’ home. “It can get tense,” she said, “but as time goes on, you see movement, you see people coming to help. We must stay faithful.” Staff and volunteers in Port Arthur, Orange and Beaumont worked at the direction of the Rita Recovery office.
The Alabama-West Florida Conference was already in the disaster response business in 2005. Ivan and Dennis did extensive damage in 2004, only to be followed by Katrina. Clyde Pressley, executive director of the ministry, gives God the glory for all the work that’s been accomplished. “There have been so many miracles,” he said. “God sent the people we needed and our church has been exceedingly generous.
By the end of the 2005 hurricane season, a weary nation watched Hurricane Wilma blow over southern Florida on October 24. In cooperation with UMCOR, the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry partnered with ministries across the state to bring help to residents. Trish Adams, executive director of long term recovery organization CREW (Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce), noted that volunteers do more than construction. “While working on homes, many volunteers have also ministered to the souls of our hurting clients, and provided emotional and spiritual support to our staff as well.”New Challenges Face Disaster Recovery Ministries
In September 2008, two new hurricanes, Gustav and Ike, made landfall in Louisiana and Texas. The existing disaster recovery organizations stepped up to do early response and are positioning themselves for long term recovery. In a number of cases, they are continuing Katrina and Rita recovery work.
“Our commitment is that we stay until the work is done,” continued Rev. Hazelwood. “In light of fewer donations to the Hurricanes 2008 Advance special, our partners are thinking creatively to pursue additional funding to support rebuilding. In the meantime, we are confident that the exceptional volunteer response we saw to the 2004 and 2005 storms will continue for Gustav and Ike.”
Financial gifts to Hurricanes 2008, UMCOR Advance #3019695
will help meet the needs for materials for the rebuilding effort along the whole Gulf Coast. Go to the Conference web sites for more information on how to volunteer, or contact your Jurisdictional Volunteer in Mission Coordinator.
Texas Conference / Disaster RecoveryLouisiana ConferenceMississippi ConferenceAlabama-West Florida ConferenceFlorida Conference