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Hurricane Ike response begins in Texas, Louisiana

A FEMA team searches Sept. 14 for stranded residents in Sabine, Texas,
flooded when Hurricane Ike struck the U.S. Gulf Coast on Sept. 13.
A UMNS photo by Jocelyn Augustino, FEMA.

By United Methodist News Service*
Sept. 15, 2008  

Cautioning that the work ahead will be expansive and costly, United Methodists in Texas and Louisiana have begun to assess damage from Hurricane Ike and respond to emergency needs along the storm's wide trail of destruction on the heels of Hurricane Gustav.

With 110-mph winds, Ike pounded the U.S. coast on Sept. 13, submerging thousands of homes and leaving millions of people without power as it swept northward. The storm has killed at least 30 people in Texas, Louisiana and states as far north as Illinois and Ohio, according to news reports.

Residents who chose to ride out Hurricane Ike on Galveston Island, Texas, wait for transportation to a shelter in San Antonio.
A UMNS photo by Patsy Lynch, FEMA.


Officials with the United Methodist Committee on Relief have been in contact with Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the church's Houston Area and Don Cottrill, director of connectional ministries in Louisiana.

United Methodists were not able to get assessment teams into the stricken areas immediately "but hopefully that will happen today (Sept. 15)," said the Rev. Sam Dixon, UMCOR's top executive.

Leaders of the church's Texas Annual (regional) Conference have requested UMCOR supplies for distribution, and UMCOR representative Sandra Kennedy-Owes was en route there to determine other needs.

"The impact of Ike and other hurricanes on life and property extends from Haiti to Houston," Huie said. "We are so appreciative of UMCOR's ability to quickly respond to the needs of so many."

South Texas gets slammed

The Texas conference is establishing relief and recovery offices in Houston and Beaumont, and staff is working to find out the status of each of the conference's more than 700 churches, including five congregations in Galveston, the hardest-hit city.

Many United Methodist churches are serving as shelters. Among them is Christ United Methodist Church in College Station, which is housing 180 residents, staff and families from Edgewater Retirement Home in Galveston.

Huie began a two-day tour of hurricane-ravaged areas with district superintendents. She visited the district southeast of Houston, including Beaumont, on Sept. 15 and planned to travel south to Galveston on Sept. 16.

“It's going to be a very difficult situation for a long time. We need prayers.”
–The Rev. Rick Goodrich

"Both of those areas have significant damage, and we're still trying to find out how much. We know we have major, major damage to churches, parsonages and homes," said the Rev. Rick Goodrich, assistant to the bishop.

Houston, where the conference office is located, was spared significant structural damage, but most of the city's electricity was knocked out. The conference office, however, has its electricity and phone service intact, enabling staff members to coordinate disaster recovery and relief.

"We are blessed in that regard," said Goodrich. "But it's catastrophic in areas along the coast. It's going to be a very difficult situation for a long time. We need prayers."

Goodrich urged early response and recovery teams to stay away until the conference is ready to receive them.

"We appreciate everyone's heart to help us, but right now we need people to use their heads, too," he said. "We really need people to understand that we don't want anyone showing up uninvited. We can't deal with that right now. When we're ready to receive them, we will let everyone know. There's going to be a lot of work to do." 

Louisiana hit again

Louisiana anticipates a need for case managers and for direct aid, Cottrill told Dixon in an e-mail.

"Our damage will be nowhere near that of Texas this time. But there has nonetheless been a great deal of wind and water-related damage on our coast and into the interior," Cottrill wrote on Sept. 15.

As they were still assessing wind-related damage from Gustav, church leaders said Hurricane Ike flooded most of the state's 250-mile coast, sweeping over many of the same towns and coastal spots flooded by hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005.

Although the city of New Orleans escaped the brunt of the latest storm, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes reported extensive flooding. And the Native American community of Dulac, La., was once again flooded, with water reported in the United Methodist-owned community center and in Clanton Chapel United Methodist Church.

Waters churn along the city of Galveston as the hurricane approaches on Sept. 12. A  UMNS photo by Jocelyn Augustino, FEMA. 

Preliminary reports from coastal parishes indicated that many of the same families assisted by the conference disaster response ministry after the 2005 storms were flooded once again. "A lot of the work just completed in the low-lying areas has come unraveled," said the Rev. Darryl Tate, the church's director of disaster response in Louisiana.

Just north of New Orleans, Lake Ponchartrain rose and caused some flooding in the Slidell area, where the disaster response ministry recently had closed most of its cases and shut down its offices in Slidell and Abbeville.

Tate stressed that help will be needed from across The United Methodist Church as disaster response efforts ramp up again in the wake of Gustav and Ike. "UMCOR funding for response to Katrina and Rita cannot be used in this newest effort," Tate said. "Those funds must remain designated to the projects we are still working on to complete that work. Financial gifts and assistance will be badly needed to tackle the work that lies ahead in helping survivors of Gustav and Ike."

To aid Ike recovery work, send financial donations to UMCOR Advance No. 3019695, "Hurricanes 2008, Hurricane Ike." 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. Donations for Gustav recovery work should be so designated.

Meanwhile, UMCOR's Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La., is open and in need of assembled flood buckets and cleaning supplies. Its managers ask that people call before making a delivery so that supplies can be shipped to the appropriate distribution area.

For information about volunteering in affected areas, United Methodists should contact their jurisdictional Volunteer in Mission coordinator.

*Contributing to this report were Linda Bloom, a United Methodist News Service writer based in New York; Betty Backstrom, director of communications for the Louisiana Annual Conference; Eleanor Colvin, director of communications for the Texas Annual Conference; and Melissa Hinnen, a staff writer for UMCOR.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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