From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Louisiana churches work to overcome hurricane damage

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Mon, 7 Oct 2002 15:38:55 -0500

Oct. 7, 2002  News media contact: Linda Green7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.

By Betty Backstrom*

BATON ROGUE, La. (UMNS) - In the span of a week, two tropical storms plowed
into Louisiana's coast, sending people to emergency shelters, causing
extensive flooding and damaging many United Methodist churches.

Hurricane Lili hit Louisiana's coast early Oct. 3 and left nearly a
half-million utility customers without power. Some coastal residents were
still without power late over the weekend. With barely a week to recover
from the effects of Tropical Storm Isidore, the Acadiana area and much of
south Louisiana quickly prepared for the second, more powerful storm that
left fallen trees, downed power lines, flooding and storm-damaged businesses
and homes in its wake. 

Initially packing 145-mile-per-hour winds, Lili was downgraded from a
Category 4 hurricane to a Category 2 hurricane with 100-mile-per-hour winds.
It hit Louisiana's Marsh Islands before spinning out of the state Oct. 4. 

Although cleanup is under way, communication in the hardest-hit areas has
been hampered by widespread loss of phone service and impaired cell phone
reception. Under current conditions, United Methodists are providing
assistance as best they can. 

"District superintendents, who could not reach their churches by phone,
literally had to get in their cars and travel from church to church to see
how they were doing and what their needs were," said Louisiana Bishop
William W. Hutchinson. He has been in contact with the United Methodist
Committee on Relief to initiate an assessment of how the agency can provide
assistance to the state.

United Methodist congregations throughout Louisiana took up special
collections during their Oct. 6 worship services for feeding and providing
supplies to evacuees stranded in emergency shelters.  

Tony Fontenot, incident coordinator for the Louisiana Annual Conference, has
spent several days serving as a guide for the Red Cross, helping with the
delivery of services to storm-ravaged parishes throughout the Acadiana

"Conference relief communications have been working out of Asbury United
Methodist Church in Lafayette because they now have power and phones," said

United Methodist churches are working alongside relief agencies and churches
from other denominations. Asbury church, for example, is working with food
relief efforts and has enlisted help from church youth in yard cleanup for
the elderly and infirm. Farther north, First United Methodist Church of
Alexandria served as a shelter for more than 200 evacuees escaping the wrath
of Hurricane Lili last week.

Susan Pugh, conference coordinator for disaster response, reported that the
United Methodist Committee on Relief's Sager-Brown Depot in Baldwin, La., is
housing evacuees from Cypremort Point, a coastal town all but wiped out by

"UMCOR Sager-Brown depot is right in the middle of the disaster area, (and)
they are working full steam ahead providing housing, food and flood buckets,
as well as operating as a service center with (the Federal Emergency
Management Agency) and the Red Cross for people seeking assistance," Pugh

She added that 800 flood buckets had been sent to the New Orleans area after
Tropical Storm Isidore, and 200 more have been sent to Houma, La., for
cleanup following Lili. "UMCOR will be responding with more buckets as
cleanup continues. The agency also hopes to provide help with housing
rehabilitation," Pugh said. 

Dulac Community Center, an institution of the Louisiana United Methodist
Church serving the surrounding community's largely Native American
population, reported heavy damage in the surrounding area. Officials from
the center said their Christian preschool, as well as most of the homes in
the immediate area, were flooded and that many suffered damage from winds
and downed trees. However, Dulac's Clanton Chapel remained high and dry.

Several United Methodist churches in the Acadiana and Lake Charles districts
reported damage, including Centenary in Rayne and Covenant in Lafayette,
both with water and roof damage. Gueydan United Methodist Church lost its

The North Shore District, hard hit by flooding after Tropical Storm Isidore,
rallied to help, while First United Methodist Church in Slidell served as
the site for the Red Cross outreach program and provided meals to victims in
the wake of both storms.

The damage could have been catastrophic if the storm had hit the coast at
its former strength, observers said. Louisiana Gov. M. J. "Mike" Foster Jr.
said it was "divine intervention" that brought the category "four" storm
down to a category "two" before it struck land.
# # #
*Backstrom is the editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of the Louisiana
Annual Conference.

United Methodist News Service
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