Sept. 16, 2005
|A UMNS photo by Laura Thompson
from the Gulf Coast region get off their school bus at Mount Sequoyah
Conference and Retreat Center in Fayetteville, Ark.
By Jane Dennis*
ROCK, Ark. (UMNS) — Waves of Hurricane Katrina survivors flooded into
Arkansas in the wake of the devastating Aug. 29 storm that demolished
New Orleans and dozens of coastal communities in Mississippi, Alabama
Two weeks after the horrendous storm, Arkansas
government officials estimated there were 5,000 displaced people at 26
sites across the state and another 45,000 people in private homes and
Fort Chaffee, a military camp near Fort Smith, was the
first stop in Arkansas for many of the evacuees, some of whom were
airlifted out of New Orleans on C-130 military transport planes. From
there, smaller groups were bused to church and Boy Scout camps across
the state. Gov. Mike Huckabee’s office has coordinated use of the camps.
United Methodist camps were put on alert to receive evacuees. As of
Sept. 13, three of the seven — Shoal Creek near Dardanelle, Mount
Sequoyah at Fayetteville and Camp Aldersgate in Little Rock — were
housing evacuees. The other sites — Camp Tanako near Hot Springs, Mount
Eagle near Clinton, Wayland Springs Camp near Imboden and Bear Creek
Camp at Marianna — were standing ready for evacuees.
Most of the
evacuees arrived at the three United Methodist camps by school bus or
chartered bus and carrying a garbage bag or two containing a few
Four United Methodist camps in Louisiana,
three in Mississippi, two in Texas and one in Georgia also housed
evacuees and relief workers. Twelve church camps in Oklahoma, Tennessee,
Illinois, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oregon and
Virginia offered to host both evacuees and relief workers. A list of
sites and contact information is available at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship website. Katrina damaged five camp and retreat centers in Louisiana and Mississippi.
of the camp and retreat centers hosting evacuees and relief workers
need financial support and supply donations to cover the needs,
according to Kevin Witt, director of camping and retreat ministries at
the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. In many cases, the centers
faced a lack of normal revenue because they must limit serving other
groups while hosting evacuees, he said.
The identification and registration process at Fort Chaffee proved slow
and tedious when each step was repeated several thousand times over.
After numerous delays in processing and transportation, the Rev. Bobby
Bell of Fort Smith “drove a couple of church vans over to Chaffee,
loaded up some people and sent them on to Shoal Creek Camp,” said Pat
Bodenhamer, the Arkansas Conference minister for mission and outreach.
|A UMNS photo by Jane Dennis
Orleans evacuees at First United Methodist Church in Dumas, Ark.,
include (from left) Adlay Callahan, Farrah Boudreaux, Kimberly Boudreaux
and Frederick Boudreaux III.
vans arrived at the United Methodist camp around 11 p.m. on Sept. 5 and
unloaded 88 evacuees, mostly senior adults. Some were in wheelchairs or
used walkers or canes.
“Tired is not the word to describe these
folks when they arrived. They were beyond exhaustion,” said the Rev.
Herschel McClurkin, a retired United Methodist pastor from Alma
assisting with the evacuees.
The visitors arrived at the rustic,
open-air cabins to find neatly made beds with health kits and letters of
welcome. The governor’s office told camp leaders to plan on housing the
evacuees for at least 31 days. As with all properties used as shelters,
supervisory camp staff or volunteers must be on hand 24 hours a day for
Volunteers from area churches provided meals
as well as activities such as music concerts, singing and bingo games.
Additional phone lines were installed to help the evacuees reach friends
By Sept. 13, the number at Shoal Creek had dwindled
to five, as evacuees contacted friends and relatives, moved to other
locations or found permanent housing.
Mount Sequoyah, the South
Central Jurisdictional conference and retreat center in Fayetteville,
initially housed 57 New Orleans area evacuees, but as of Sept. 13 had
about 35. Several of the evacuees found employment or enrolled in the
University of Arkansas, while many of the school-age children were
enrolled in public schools.
United Methodist volunteers and
students from Philander Smith College also cleaned a vacant three-story
dormitory on the Little Rock college campus in anticipation of its use
by displaced people.
Camp Aldersgate, a facility in Little Rock
owned by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries’ Women’s
Division, received about 60 displaced people, mostly men, from Fort
Chaffee at 3 a.m. Sept. 3. One of the first requests was for a
translator for two Vietnamese evacuees who spoke limited English.
Over the course of the next 10 days, the number was reduced to about 45.
Churches care for many
In addition to the camps, several local churches were providing
shelters. As of Sept. 13, Sugar Hill United Methodist Church in
Texarkana was caring for 41 evacuees, Dumas First United Methodist
Church had 20 and Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock
had 20. Dozens of churches were providing meals and housing assistance
and helping evacuees at local motels and shelters.
|A UMNS photo by Jane Dennis
Johnell Williams and family at the family evacuee center at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church.
Heights church focused on caring for families. Partitions were set up in
the church’s Christian Life Center to create semi-private “apartments”
for up to six families.
The church created “a family environment
where (displaced people) can be ministered to and supported as a family
unit,” said volunteer Barbara Pardue. Families with young children faced
a difficult challenge trying to live in some of the larger shelters in
the state, where 200 or 300 people were under one roof, she said.
did it on faith,” said Associate Pastor Lynn Lindsey. “We’ve never done
anything like this before. But people really wanted to help. Our phone
was ringing off the wall.”
Plans to stay
3,600-member congregation had little trouble rounding up volunteers to
serve meals, sort donations, provide child care and serve as overnight
“We are very happy to be here. They’ve been wonderful to
us,” said Erica Preatto, who left the New Orleans suburb of Marrero the
day before Katrina hit. Preatto, who is seven months pregnant, traveled
the 350 miles to Little Rock in a 2003 Honda Civic along with her
husband, Johnell Williams, his mother, Joyce Williams, their 10- and
11-year old sons and 1-year-old daughter.
Their new friends at
the Pulaski Heights church helped in many ways. The boys were enrolled
in school and provided uniforms and school supplies. Johnell, a barber
by trade, was offered and accepted a job in a local barbershop. Erica, a
water-quality expert who worked for the city of New Orleans, was
interviewing for jobs and making regular visits to a local obstetrician.
The family’s top priority was finding permanent housing.
“Little Rock is going to be my home,” Johnell said. “I’m staying.”
of relief supplies and water given to the annual conference by
individuals and businesses across Arkansas have filled 17
tractor-trailer loads, bound for United Methodist Committee on Relief
operations in Louisiana and Mississippi. According to Roy Smith,
Arkansas Conference director of ministries, the monetary response by
Arkansas United Methodists to UMCOR for hurricane relief has
topped $1.7 million.
Donations to support the United Methodist response to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy can be made online at www.methodistrelief.org
and by phone at (800) 554-8583. Checks can be written to UMCOR,
designated for “Hurricanes 2005 Global,” Advance No. 982523, and left in
church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New
York, NY 10087-9068.
*Dennis is editor of the Arkansas United Methodist, the newspaper of the Arkansas Annual Conference.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.