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Katrina’s lessons helped Louisiana: church leader

Residents in the College Town neighborhood of Baton Rouge, La., work Sept. 1 to clear streets blocked by downed trees following Hurricane Gustav.
UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Sept. 2, 2008 | BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS)

Louisiana residents spent Labor Day nervously watching trees and power lines fall as Hurricane Gustav lashed the state with high winds and rain.

Baton Rouge firefighters check Sept. 1 on downed trees and power lines blocking roads in the College Town neighborhood.

Shining through the rain, a large red neon sign on Interstate 10 asks “God Bless Louisiana” and that prayer seems to have been answered.

The day after the storm, United Methodists in the church’s Louisiana Annual (Regional) Conference are assessing damage and preparing to make a tour of the state as soon as they get clearance from law enforcement officials.

They are also breathing a sigh of relief that lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina three years ago helped everyone prepare for this storm.

“We were prepared. We contacted all our pastors and encouraged them to evacuate,” said the Rev. Don Cottrill, director of connectional ministries for the Louisiana Conference. All pastors have been instructed to call the conference office as soon as they are able to report on any damage or injuries.

Landfall at Dulac

Dulac, located at the tip of the state, was the entry point for the hurricane, and officials expect reports of heavy damage. Houma, Lafayette, New Iberia and Baton Rouge seem to be the places most affected by the storm. The Sager Brown Depot, owned and operated by the United Methodist Committee on Relief in Baldwin, was evacuated before the storm hit. Officials from UMCOR are expected in Baton Rouge Sept. 3.

Interstate 10 near Gonzales is deserted during the landfall of Hurricane Gustav.

“All our disaster relief trucks were moved here before the storm, as well as an 18-wheeler full of water,” said the Rev. Darryl Tate, conference director of disaster response. “The trucks are positioned to go out where needed as soon as possible.”

Tate said the conference also moved thousands of dollars worth of materials out of Dulac that had been sent there to assist rebuilding efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which struck in 2005.

“It would have been a major setback if we had lost that material,” he said. “There was about two years worth of work still to do to rebuild Dulac before Gustav hit.”

Helping residents

State officials and church officials are working hand in hand to help storm-weary residents get back in their homes. Since Katrina, Tate, Cottrill and other United Methodist leaders have been working with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The next step is to make sure every one is out and to start clearing debris,” Cottrill said. “Once that is done, the conference will be in dire need of volunteers and donations.”

Donations to assist with relief efforts can be made to UMCOR Advance No. 3019695, “Hurricanes 2008, Hurricane Gustav,” for this emergency. Checks can be mailed to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write the Advance number and name on the memo line of the check. Credit-card donations can be made online at http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/umcor/donate.cfm?code=3019695&id=3019695.

*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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

Audio: The Rev. Don Cottrill

“We’re putting out the request for volunteers…”

“…most of that will be cleanup and debris removal…”

“…a lot of roof damage…”

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