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Bayous, bays and oceans sent waves of destruction

Homeowner Sully Griffin, 73, takes a break from clearing debris at his home in Surfside Beach, Texas, to visit with United Methodist Bishop Janice Riggle Huie following Hurricane Ike. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Oct. 1, 2008 | SURFSIDE, Texas (UMNS)

Sully Griffin has an even better ocean-side view since Hurricane Ike chewed up the houses that once lined the beach in front of his home.

The 73-year-old U.S. Army veteran has traveled all over the world and seen all the planet’s oceans. "None are prettier than this right here," he said, gesturing to the Gulf of Mexico as its waters lapped at the beach.

Looking at what is left of his neighbor’s home—black pilings peaking out of the water—Sully philosophized that hurricanes are one of the hazards you learn to live with to be in paradise.

Griffin was one of the people who United Methodist Bishop Janice Riggle Huie met during a tour of communities mowed down or flooded by Ike in the South District of the church's Texas Annual (regional) Conference. The Houston-based conference extends along the coast from Bay City to Port Arthur.

Bayous and bays

When Ike hit on Sept. 13, placid bayous and quiet bays spewed crashing waves of destruction over churches, homes and businesses.

The Rev. Tommy E. Lyles Jr. surveys damage at Cedar Bayou United
Methodist Church in Baytown.

The Rev. Tommy E. Lyles Jr. dumped three inches of Cedar Bayou out of his desk drawer on the first day he was able to get back to his office, located a few hundred feet inland.

Cedar Bayou United Methodist Church suffered major water damage from the surge. "There were white caps in our parking lot," Lyles said.

However, behind the large brick church, the historic white, wooden Alexander Chapel built in 1844 was untouched, as was the former parsonage now occupied by the church's youth director.

Youth director Greg Seay, 24, was raking sludge from his back yard. "Everything in the bayou is in my front yard, even a staircase from somewhere," he said.

Seay said one of the youth in his group had a tree land on his house, but most everyone else fared well. "This is an awesome congregation, and they are going to be very supportive," he said.

Helping Seay clean up was Lori Tadlock, a Sunday school teacher and co-chair of the building committee at Cedar Bayou.

"We had Hurricane Katrina evacuees stay here and also people from Hurricane Rita," she said. "Church is supposed to be a safe haven so it is upsetting when something happens to it."

Galveston drenched

The Rev. Don Waddleton, superintendent of the South District, visited churches in Galveston after the hurricane-whipped coastal city reopened to residents on Sept. 25.

The Rev. Donald Waddleton and Leah Taylor check on restoration efforts at Moody Memorial United Methodist
Church in Galveston.

The largest church in the area, Moody Memorial United Methodist Church, lost part of its roof to the storm but proudly proclaimed on its Web site that it was "Still Standing to Serve." Large plastic tubes and big blue fans blew warm air into the soaked sanctuary in an attempt to hold off the mold and save as much as possible. Even with all the efforts, the wooden floors were buckling.

Lowell Baggett, director of student ministries, said the church has started serving about 3,000 meals a day since Galveston residents were allowed back.

St. Paul United Methodist Church, a nearby historic African-American congregation, sustained extensive damage to its sanctuary, fellowship hall and parsonage.

"It is an unholy mess," said church member Dorethea Wynn as she walked through the sanctuary. "This is just terrible. I donated that piano to the church in 1986. Just a few days before the storm, I celebrated my birthday here. My mother attended this church, my grandmother attended this church …"

Waddleton said many of the flooded churches and parsonages in the Texas conference will be saved and open for worship again.

Mold grows on waterlogged pews at Seabrook United Methodist Church.

However, one church that probably won’t be repaired is Seabrook United Methodist Church, where several feet of water covered its sanctuary, offices and gym. The congregation was in the midst of a fund-raising campaign to build a new sanctuary in a new location.

The Rev. Tony McCollum, pastor of Seabrook, was taking all the chaos with grace. "This just moves up our plans," he said.

To aid in Hurricane Ike disaster relief in Texas and Louisiana, give to the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Give online or drop checks in United Methodist church offering plates or send to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, with "Advance No. 3019695, Hurricanes 2008" on the memo line.

*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.

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