Work teams continue to help in Mississippi
May 25, 2006
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
Hurricane Katrina's destruction is evident in Ocean Springs, Miss.
By Neill Caldwell*
GULFPORT, Miss. (UMNS) — It gives a whole new meaning to “wrong side
of the tracks.”
Train tracks run parallel to the beach and the
two major roadways along the Mississippi Gulf coast, Highway 90 and Interstate
When Hurricane Katrina
slammed ashore Aug. 29, the damage above those tracks was significant. But
between the slightly elevated railroad tracks and the beach, it was like Katrina’s
giant hand had scrubbed the ground clean. A huge wall of water pushed in by
the storm smashed buildings down to their cement slabs, and when the water
receded, it carried the debris back out into the gulf.
When people here say something was “below the tracks,” that
means it is gone.
Today, most areas don’t look much different
than they did the day after the storm. But work is happening that will eventually
change all that. Local
residents and volunteers from all over the nation, including many United Methodist
teams, continue to pour in. The church is providing support in many ways, and
plans call for building additional warehouses to help the effort.
“It was January before we had drinkable water,” says the Rev.
Terry Lynn Hilliard, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Pass Christian. “I’m
amazed at how unprepared we all were. I lost two cars that were parked 40 miles
apart and all my belongings. I had to wade through waist-deep water to get
into my in-laws’ house.”
About a third of the members at First Church have
moved to other areas and probably won’t be back.
“I’m 65 years old, and I don’t ever think I will see it
back like it was,” says Ed Blakeslee, disaster relief coordinator for
the United Methodist Church’s Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference.
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
Debris is all that remains of an Ocean Springs, Miss., beachfront home after Hurricane Katrina.
On Highway 49, at a United Methodist Committee
on Relief warehouse, several tractor-trailers unload supplies for the relief
each week. If it’s
a hot commodity — building materials such as Sheetrock, shingles or insulation,
for example — it’s gone in a matter of hours. The warehouse also
has a food pantry and space to store heavy equipment.
So far it’s the only warehouse in the area, but Blakeslee says the plan
is to build three more of these multipurpose buildings, one for each of the
conference’s four damage zones in southern Mississippi. It will take
$200,000 to $300,000 to accomplish that goal.
“The government was not ready for this storm,” Blakeslee says. “And
I mean all of them: local, state and federal. The organization that stepped
forward was the church. Faith-based organizations didn’t have a plan;
they just did what needed to be done.”
Just south of the warehouse at Gateway United
Methodist Church, about 10 miles inland, work teams rotate in and out each
become a command post and housing center for volunteer workers. United Methodist
crowd just about every inch of free space at Gautier United Methodist Church,
just a mile from the coast, where the Family Life Center and several Sunday
school classrooms have been turned into living space. Teams are fed three meals
a day and sleep on cots, with fabric hung from PVC pipe providing a small level
of privacy. No one complains.
Pastor Ron Stanley has been at Gautier for nine
years and says he wished his seminary had offered “Katrina 101.” “I’ve learned to
roll with the punches,” he says. “I grew up on a farm and was able
to do just about everything.”
The Mississippi Conference has received thousands of workers since Katrina
struck. It has worked to support the local churches, which are providing space
for the workers. The conference also has helped provide food, water, housing
and other resources, and it has scheduled reconstruction efforts. Churches
that were still standing are providing worship space for those that were destroyed,
sometimes with a different congregation in each corner of the sanctuary.
Few street signs remain, having been blown or
washed away. People have created hand-lettered signs for key intersections,
locals need to guide
work teams out or they’ll get hopelessly lost.
In the houses, crews first rip out everything
because the mold is so bad. Once down to the framing, the walls, floors and
and then paint and carpet are added. Unskilled workers are assigned to “clean
up,” a nice way of saying “mucking out” the destroyed homes.
Skilled workers — carpenters, plumbers, roofers — are needed most.
“It’s amazing to see how this storm has affected the local churches,” says
Robert Sharpe, the Seashore District coordinator for disaster response. “The
Catholics, the Baptists and the Methodists are all working together.”
Sharp says that while UMCOR is not always the
first on the scene, it is always the last, being committed to staying until
is completed long after
other denominations and secular groups have packed up and gone home. “The
United Methodist Church will still be shining five years from now, when everyone
else has pulled out.”
Mississippi Annual Conference Volunteers in Mission will go out to annual
conference meetings around the denomination this summer to thank United Methodists
for their open hearts. They want to do it in person.
Says Hilliard: “We have a lot of payback
to do when all this is over.”
*Caldwell is a freelance writer based in High Point, N.C.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.