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Church helps Louisiana move ahead with recovery

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The Rev. Don Cottrill, Louisiana Annual Conference provost, answers questions during a meeting of clergy from the Baton Rouge District.
Oct. 21, 2005

By Betty Backstrom*

BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS) — Response efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are helping United Methodist and government officials write the manual for handling disasters of such magnitude, according to a church leader.

“We are still in the relief phase in many of the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, while some areas are already moving into recovery,” said the Rev. Don Cottrill, provost of the denomination’s Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference. He emphasized that damage assessment is still in progress.

Teams are working with debris and tree removal as well as “mudding out” homes in the areas surrounding Orleans Parish and sections of southwest Louisiana affected by Hurricane Rita. Similar efforts in the most severely affected areas of New Orleans may be hampered due to the toxicity of the sludge and mold left behind by flood waters.

“We are following the lead of FEMA and the Department of Environmental Quality in these cases,” said the Rev. Darryl Tate, director of the Louisiana United Methodist Storm Recovery Center.

An estimated 285,127 homes were destroyed statewide during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to statistics from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“That represents 46 percent of the homes affected by the storms, which means that almost half of the storm damage resulted in total destruction,” said Gordon Knuckey, field representative for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

FEMA officials also reported that an additional 73,707 homes received major or structural damage, while another 70,346 dwellings sustained minor damage. “Minor damage is defined as repairs costing above the deductible that do not prevent the family from moving back into the home,” Knuckey explained.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The Rev. Darryl Tate leaves footprints in the mud that coats the porch of his parsonage in New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi Aug. 29. Hurricane Rita followed a few weeks later, striking the coastal region Sept. 24.

UMCOR representatives have worked closely with the Louisiana Annual Conference to establish the Storm Recovery Center, housed in the area offices in Baton Rouge. Requests for assistance and offers of help, including those from Volunteers in Mission work teams, are funneled through the center to prevent duplication of effort.

“The compassion expressed by people all over the world has been incredible,” said the Rev. Connie Thomas, volunteer coordinator. “Monetary gifts, shipments of supplies, work teams and offers to partner with a specific church have been pouring into the center.”

Relief centers are emerging in strategic areas, staffed to help with long-term recovery. Overall coordinators are responsible for deploying volunteers, while a construction coordinator at each site is responsible for projecting needed supplies and tools, along with overseeing the work done by teams. Every center is staffing a case manager supervisor, who will recruit and oversee volunteers with the task of case management.

“Persons who have been affected by the storms will receive help assessing their individual needs and with (getting) in touch with agencies that can help them,” Tate said.

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A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The Rev. Ernest Scott surveys damage to his Slidell parsonage following Hurricane Katrina.
The conference is already operating the Northshore United Methodist Relief Center at Aldersgate United Methodist Church and the Westbank United Methodist Relief Center at Aurora United Methodist Church. Centers in East Jefferson Parish, Orleans Parish and in the Lake Charles area are also in development.

The Louisiana Conference’s seven districts have been asked to design a proposal for hurricane response. Teams have been formed to draft these proposals, using $50,000 each as a working budget for their individual plan.

Cottrill noted the challenge the conference faces in Baton Rouge alone. “The Baton Rouge District now has the largest city in the state, with a population of close to 800,000 people,” he said. “The United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge must find a way to address the spiritual as well as the physical needs of its newest citizens.”

Those closest to the situation deal every day with the complicated nature of responding to Hurricane Katrina. “This is unusual because there are so many phases going on at one time,” Tate said. “It’s as if there are multiple layers that must be peeled off one at a time.”

Donations for hurricane relief can be made online at and by phone at (800) 554-8583. Checks can be written to UMCOR, designated for “Hurricanes 2005-Katrina, Advance No. 982523,” or “Hurricane Rita, Advance No. 901323,” and left in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Contributions may also be designated for a specific state affected by the hurricanes.

*Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Louisiana Annual Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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