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Hurricane Rita survivors get help rebuilding homes, lives

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

Volunteer groups from all over the world have come to help rebuild Helen and Sherrill Sagreras' home in Abbeville, La.
Sept. 1, 2006

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

ABBEVILLE, La. (UMNS) — Raywood Sons has a little house that love built.

Hurricane Rita, which smashed into the Texas-Louisiana border last Sept. 24, took away his family home, which had stood strong since 1926.

Sons never thought he would live in another place he could call home, but a volunteer group from Oconto Falls (Wis.) United Methodist Church changed that for him.

He described members of the Wisconsin team as “the greatest people you would ever want to meet. They put my house together,” he says. “Those people brought so much love into the house, they turned it into a home.”

His new home, built on the site of his old one, is unique. The 400-square-foot house would probably fit into many people’s bedrooms.

Sons knew exactly how much space he needed, and he didn’t want any more time or money put into building a larger house.

“I don’t need a lot of space,” he says. “I am by myself, and at my age, I don’t want anything big to clean. I am not going to spend a lot of time cleaning nooks and crannies, so the fewer I have the better.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

Volunteer groups from the Abbeville Storm Recovery Station "brought so much love into the house they turned it into a home," says Raywood Sons.

The biggest part of the house is the porch, where Sons likes to spend most of his time. The bathroom is bigger than the bedroom, and the kitchen is tiny. The living room is just big enough for two chairs and a love seat.

Calls for help

Hurricane Rita was the third most intense Atlantic hurricane in history, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm surge from the Category 3 hurricane caused extensive damage along the Louisiana and extreme southeastern Texas coasts. The storm killed seven people.

The Rev. Kathy Fitzhugh, operations manager for the Abbeville Storm Recovery Station, says Hurricane Rita’s damage has not received as much attention as Katrina.

“We are still getting calls every day from people needing help,” she says. The station has hosted 739 volunteers since opening in January. To date, it has served 761 clients and helped 52 families return to their homes. The station has 951 referrals and is actively working with 103 families. It has closed 222 cases.

Other areas were hit even harder by Hurricane Rita.

“The worst of the damage was felt in the floodwaters in the Dulac, Freetown, Delcambre, Erath, Mouton Cove and Pecan Island areas,” said the Rev. Roger D. Lathan, superintendent of the Acadiana District of the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference.

“It has been reported that these areas received the highest water levels ever. Homes were damaged, cemeteries were disrupted, and massive power outages were sustained.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

Volunteers Karen Yokota (left) and Kenton Kuwada from Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose, Calif., paint baseboards that will go in Raywood Sons' new home in Abbeville, La.

In the Lake Charles District, 31 churches and 12 parsonages were damaged. Cameron United Methodist Church and Grand Chenier United Methodist Church were destroyed.

The Sagrera family

Helen and Sherrill Sagrera, one of their sons and a daughter lost their homes when Hurricane Rita hit.

“It sucked out all the walls on our house,” Helen says. “My daughter’s house was stopped by a telephone pole, and my son’s house blew into the swamp.”

“It wasn’t something you would ever want to come back to,” says Sherrill.

All three houses are almost complete, and the family is once again back together on land in Abbeville where it has lived for 43 and a half years.

The Sagreras describe the tireless efforts of volunteers as “amazing.”

“The bulk of the help came from United Methodists,” Sherrill says. “We have had people from all over — Missouri, New Mexico, Texas.”

Adds Helen: “And every group that came through thanked us for letting them work on our house. Can you believe that?”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose

Helen and Sherrill Sagrera stand beneath their new home, built 11 feet above sea level with the help of United Methodist volunteers in Abbeville, La.

The new homes are built with what the family salvaged from seven others. Telephone poles hold up the houses. “They are planted 10 feet up and 10 feet down,” Sherrill says. With the braces and base, the house sits well above the recommended 11 feet.

Pointing to the structure, Sherrill says it is well constructed with plenty of braces and lots of nails.

Fitzhugh was on site for some of the building of the homes and tells the story of one young volunteer who heard that Habitat for Humanity’s motto was if one nail is good, three are better. She says he responded with, “and 56 are excellent.”

The Sagreras have taken pictures of all the groups that helped the family; Helen plans to write each one and send pictures of the finished houses.

“I never figured that many people would have that much concern,” Sherrill says.

Helen adds, “We have made such great friends.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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

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