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Symbols of hope endure in Hurricane Rita recovery

A house in Mauriceville, Texas, is crushed by a tree felled by Hurricane Rita's high winds. The Rita Recovery office of the United Methodist Texas Annual Conference has helped 1,771 families in their long-term recovery since the September 2005 storm struck the Texas-Louisiana border. A UMNS photo by Bob McMillan, Federal Emergency Management Agency.

By Susan J. Meister*
Sept. 6, 2007 | BEAUMONT, Texas (UMNS)

Two large trees of hope constantly encourage the volunteer staff in the Rita Recovery office in the Wesley United Methodist Church.

Two wall displays illustrate the long-term recovery work that continues after one of the costliest storms in U.S. history: Hurricane Rita, which struck the Texas-Louisiana border in September 2005.

On one side is the "Tree of Recovery," where a leaf is added every time home repair work is completed. On the opposite wall is "Helping Hands," made of cut-out hand prints representing each of the volunteer teams in the rebuilding effort.

"We have a goal of 400 homes to be completed by the end of August," said Executive Director Angela Baker. As of July, there were 343 "leaves" on the Tree of Recovery toward that goal.

A flooded house in Port Arthur, Texas, is surrounded by uprooted trees and fallen power lines after Hurricane Rita ravaged the Texas-Louisiana border in September 2005. A UMNS file photo by Ed Edahl, Federal Emergency Management Agency.


The Helping Hands tree currently celebrates 388 volunteer teams from 28 states, representing more than 168,000 hours of labor. In June, 170 volunteers from 12 different churches in the Missouri Conference added their helping hands to the community effort.

Desperate need

The United Methodist Committee On Relief has been hard at work helping the denomination's Texas and Louisiana Annual (regional) Conferences design and implement long-term recovery plans.

The Rita Recovery office, which covers Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, Texas, as well as surrounding communities, has helped 1,771 families with long-term recovery. And the work continues, as recent heavy rains in Texas have penetrated already-damaged roofs and caused ceilings to collapse.

"We are seeing people who desperately need help," explained Stephanie Lundgreen, a supervisor at the Rita Recovery office. "One elderly gentleman tried to patch his own roof and stuffed clothes in the holes to keep the rain water out."

Most of the clients are elderly or handicapped, or single parents, who have little or no insurance to cover damages. Many have been on a waiting list for almost two years. But, there's hope. Baker and her staff are promoting a "Rita Recovery Blitz Build" Sept. 9-29 to help those who are waiting for rebuilding assistance.

For more information on the work in southeast Texas and to volunteer, go to the Rita Recovery Web site at http://www.umcortexas.com.

*Meister is the United Methodist Committee on Relief's Gulf Coast communications consultant.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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