|Power outages hamper Gustav disaster response|
Residents of Baton Rouge, La., wait in line to enter an
Albertson's grocery store while rain from Hurricane Gustav continues to
fall and flood the parking lot.
UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
Sept. 4, 2008 | BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS)
As widespread power outages persisted in parts of Louisiana,
hurricane damage reports trickled into the state’s central United
Methodist office and residents began returning home from the largest
evacuation in state history.
Staff members at the church's Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference
fielded phone calls and assessed needs in order to develop a statewide
emergency response plan.
"Power outages are a big issue here," said Betty Backstrom, a conference
spokesperson. "There are a lot of uprooted trees, a lot of debris, a
lot of downed power lines. That's the big, big story."
Representatives from the United Methodist Committee on Relief toured
some of the state's hardest-hit parishes on Sept. 4 to determine how
United Methodists elsewhere can help through the church's disaster
UMCOR's Rev. Tom Hazelwood and Sandra Kennedy-Owes were touring
Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, along with Bishop William W.
Hutchinson, the church's episcopal leader in Louisiana; the Rev. Darryl
Tate, director of disaster response for the conference; and the Rev. Don
Cottrill, conference director of connectional ministries.
The Rev. Larry Norman inspects hurricane damage to the
parsonage at First United Methodist Church in Denham Springs, La.
'It wasn't a flood this time'
Baton Rouge in southwest Louisiana was one of the worst-hit areas
from Hurricane Gustav, which has left more than 800,000 people without
power since its Sept. 1 landfall. While Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New
Orleans was largely spared this time, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said
Gustav left its mark on other parts of the state, including areas hit by
Hurricane Rita in September 2005.
"It wasn’t a flood this time, it was trees down," Tate said. "We will be
looking to help the least, the last and the lost, who are mostly people
Sunny skies returned to Baton Rouge on Sept. 4 after days of tornado
warnings and flash flood reports. However, the sunshine was a mixed
"With the power out, that means a lot of people don't have air
conditioning, which is a big issue here and especially rough for seniors
and folks with health issues," Backstrom said.
Utility officials said it could take up to six weeks to restore power in
some areas. Meanwhile, long lines were typical at grocery stores and
The most pressing need
Serving as the church's hub for disaster relief, the conference
center in downtown Baton Rouge was not damaged and lost power for only a
brief period following Gustav. Conference staff worked the phones to
gather reports from local pastors and lay leaders.
"We've been blessed to have air conditioning and electricity because
it's afforded us a workspace where we can communicate with our local
churches and those expressing needs and to begin processing everything,"
"Our disaster response organization is gearing up, and now new cases
from Gustav will be added to our cases from Katrina and Rita. There will
be a lot of cleanup needed for Gustav. We're developing a larger group
of first responders to be part of teams that will go out and do a lot of
tree and debris removal. That's going to be our most pressing need."
Early reports indicated that damage to churches and parsonages was
minimal, although a tree crashed through the roof of the parsonage of
Denham Springs First United Methodist Church. No one was injured in that
Camp Istrouma, a United Methodist campground northeast of Baton Rouge,
reported significant damage, including a three-foot-wide oak tree that
fell on the manager’s house. The manager and his family were at home at
the time, but no one was injured, said the Rev. Bill Moon, pastor of
Blackwater United Methodist Church.
Bishop William W. Hutchinson (left) and disaster relief leaders say a prayer for
the Rev. Bob Deich (second from left)
and his family inside the parsonage.
How to help
First United Methodist Church in downtown Baton Rouge will open its
doors to volunteers wanting to help with the cleanup. The church is
moving a shower trailer to its parking lot and plans to offer water and
ice and a place to stay. Volunteers should bring their own food because
most grocery stores have not reopened.
Cleanup crews and mission teams wanting to assist should contact the conference disaster response ministry at email@example.com or at (225) 346-5193.
UMCOR encourages United Methodists to ship flood buckets and other kits
to its Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La. Information about flood bucket
preparation can be found online.
Financial donations can be made to UMCOR Advance No. 3019695,
"Hurricanes 2008, Hurricane Gustav." Mail checks to UMCOR, P.O. Box
9068, New York, NY 10087, and write the Advance number and name on the
memo line of the check. Credit-card donations can be made online.
"Baton Rouge gave after Katrina, and now it needs to receive aid," said
Cottrill. "Gustav will open up fresh wounds both spiritually and
emotionally, and the church needs to be a place they can turn to."
*Kathy L. Gilbert, a United Methodist News Service writer reporting from Baton Rouge, contributed to this story.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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