Disaster coordinators brace for new hurricane season
June 2, 2006
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Three men in particular are standing on the shorelines of the Gulf
Coast praying for mostly sunshine and blue skies from June to November.
“I haven’t been looking at how many days until hurricane season
starts; I am looking at how many days until it is over,” says the Rev.
Darryl Tate, executive director of the United Methodist Louisiana Annual
(regional) Conference’s Storm Recovery Center.
Tate along with the Rev. Clyde Pressley, Alabama-West Florida, and Ed
Blakeslee, Mississippi, lived through the one of the worst hurricane
seasons to hit the United States last summer as disaster response
In the Louisiana Annual Conference, 90 United Methodist churches were
damaged and 80 pastors were displaced. In the Mississippi Conference,
48 churches were damaged and six churches were destroyed beyond repair.
Coden (Ala.) United Methodist Church was destroyed and Bayou La Batre
sustained considerable damage in the Alabama-Florida Conference, where
three other churches also sustained damage.
While coordinating his conference’s response, Tate also dealt with
the challenges of being a displaced pastor. His church, St. Luke’s
United Methodist, and parsonage were flooded in New Orleans.
Pressley became Alabama-West Florida’s coordinator after Hurricane
Ivan in 2004. He says people still need help rebuilding from that storm.
Hurricanes Dennis and Katrina just set them back even further.
“We just go back to the drawing board,” he says.
Blakeslee, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church and retiree
from the Mississippi Power Co., has lived in Gulfport, Miss., all his
life. He has seen a lot of hurricanes come through his state. He counts
them off: Betsy, Camille, Fredric, Elena, Georges.
“The sad part is I never had the vision this would happen,” he says
of Katrina’s damage. “A lot of what I remember and love about this area
is gone forever.”
All three men have learned hard lessons and are preparing churches and pastors for the next storm.
Pressley has met with four of the eight district superintendents in
his area to talk about preparing for a hurricane or other disaster.
“We talk to them about how to organize the church, how to respond
immediately ? how to communicate, how to take care of the homebound
folks and how to safeguard their church records,” he says. “We don’t
have a lot of optimism that everyone went back home and did what we
said. That is what concerns us.”
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
Revs. Darryl Tate (left) and Marva Mitchell visit outside the Uptown
Station of the Louisiana United Methodist Storm Recovery Center in New
During annual conference meetings, which begin June 4 in both
Alabama-West Florida and Louisiana, Tate and Pressley will be making
presentations on what happened last year and how to prepare for this
“On Monday night (June 5), we are going to have a Katrina-Rita
party,” Tate says. “It will be a chance to let our hair down and just
have a relaxing evening. Then on Tuesday afternoon, we share our plans
and talk about the mission zone that has been declared in New Orleans.”
The plan designates seven mission zones in the city that will be
directed by a clergy team. Thirty-eight churches are in the zones.
Disaster relief workers will also be honored during the conference, Tate says.
Pressley will make a presentation June 5 that will include
suggestions about what individual churches can do. “By that time, we
will already be four days into the new hurricane season.”
Blakeslee will meet with pastors and district superintendents in the
next few days to talk about plans in case another storm hits.
“Nobody in this country was prepared for a storm of this magnitude,”
Blakeslee says of Katrina. “Based on what we learned, there are a lot of
things we would do differently and faster.”
One of the things weighing heavily on his mind is the coming hot
weather. “It is already 92 degrees, and a lot of people are in those
small FEMA trailers.”
Warehouses and modular buildings have been built in Mississippi to
help with some of the problems encountered last year, when storage space
and lodging for volunteers ran short.
“I think by the end of the summer we will have everything up and
going,” Blakeslee says. Churches have been straining to house volunteers
and still maintain their ministry. Construction of some dorms will take
pressure off those churches, he says.
In Louisiana, Tate says every pastor will be asked to register at
annual conference and supply emergency contact names and numbers. He
wants to pair each district in the state up with another so congregation
members will know who to call with their locations.
Last year, congregations were spread out across the country, and
locating people was hard. “People evacuated to St. Paul, Minn., or St.
Louis or Nashville will know who to call and say, ?This is my address
and this was my church.’”
A database will then be developed after annual conference ends. Tate
also wants to get copies of Louisiana’s evacuation plan so each delegate
leaving the meeting will have one to share with others.
“We’ve been told by the authorities that if you live in a trailer,
even in a thunderstorm, they want you out,” Tate says. “Down in New
Orleans, they were saying if a tropical storm warning is issued, there
will be a mandatory evacuation. I think that has been revised to a
Category 2 or above hurricane.”
Pressley is hoping for a chance to recover and plan ahead. “If we get
a reprieve this year, we can get ahead on these recovery efforts, and
our next plan of action is to be more proactive and aggressive.”
?Never thought I would be here’
All three men also say they never expected to be in the roles they
now occupy. Tate has gone from pastor of a church to disaster relief
coordinator to director and now to executive director.
“In this ministry, pretty much every day you see something that lets
you know you are making a difference in humanity,” he says. “I haven’t
had this much reward in ministry, really being able to touch the surface
of humanity, for a long time.”
|A UMNS photo by Meredyth Earnest
learned lessons from Hurricane Katrina, the Rev. Clyde Pressley is
preparing his churches and pastors for another hurricane season.
Pressley spent 26 years as an Air Force chaplain and then retired and
was an associate pastor at Daphne (Ala.) United Methodist Church for 10
“Then I decided I’d go play golf for awhile,” he says, chuckling.
“Come September, the storm (Ivan) came through and the bishop called
me.” He said yes to what he thought would be a temporary assignment.
“Long story short, I’m still here and thoroughly enjoying it. You
know, it is a joy to see the church come alive and be the church and be
the body of Christ when the world needs you the most.”
Blakeslee directed work crews out his church for two months before
getting the call from his bishop asking him to take over as conference
“It makes you feel good about what the church has done,” he says.
“There are a lot of things we could have done better, but then nobody
was ready. When you compare the church to other organizations, you
really have to feel good about the effort and the results.”
Outpouring of help
The generosity of people from around the country has impressed — and touched — the three men.
“I could not have done this ministry for 10 months without the
generosity of the people of St. Luke’s,” Tate says. “They gave us
insurance money from the parsonage so we could start over again, and
they even gave us money to take a vacation this summer.”
Blakeslee says he has met wonderful people from everywhere.
“I was just over at Bay St. Louis today and I met a man from Oregon,
some young people from Tennessee and North Carolina, people from
Arizona. I have just met some outstanding people.”
“You know, when you think about it, people from Michigan weren’t hit
by Hurricane Katrina; why would they take their time and energy and
means to drive all the way down here except that they care about
people,” Pressley says.
Tate is excited about all that has been accomplished.
“We have volunteers galore, we have wonderful case management going
on, we have construction people in place and a plan for the future.
“People who are the least, the last and the lost are going to have
their needs met through the ministry of the Louisiana Annual Conference,
through the generous donations to the United Methodist Committee on
Blakeslee sums it up: “All these wonderful people have stepped forward to help, and I just hope they keep coming.”
*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 email@example.com.