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Texans 'still in the storm' one year after Hurricane Rita

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A UMNS photo by Eleanor Colvin

Pastors pray before an interfaith remembrance service of Hurricane Rita.
Sept. 28, 2006

By Eleanor L. Colvin*

HOUSTON (UMNS)--Hurricane Rita was more than just a traffic jam. Ask the people of Texas' Golden Triangle who are still struggling to put their lives together one year later.

The hype of Rita’s anticipated landfall blew over when the storm didn’t strike Galveston as predicted, but it still damaged Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, Texas. The testimony can be found in thousands of toppled trees, mangled webs of power lines, and those who evacuated in the seemingly endless line of cars crawling along the roads.

"It was just the most destructive thing I've seen in my public service career of 28 years," said County Judge Carl Griffith on Sept. 24, the first anniversary of Hurricane Rita. Griffith was speaking at an interfaith community remembrance service, "Shelter from the Storm," held in Beaumont.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Eleanor Colvin

The Rev. Joy Richards (right) talks to prayer wall visitors.
Still stormy

"Some of the people are still right in the middle of the storm," said the Rev. Joy Richards, pastor of Aldersgate-Trinity United Methodist Church in Port Arthur. "It's not over for them, they're not in their homes. It's still total chaos."

Chaos has become a very common feeling for those like Richards, who returned to the area after being evacuated for weeks and attempted to patch together remnants of their lives. The sanctuary of Aldersgate-Trinity was pristine, she recalled, but the office area was completely destroyed. The church, which sustained more than $800,000 in damage, did most of its own repairs to help stretch the insurance money.

Assisting those who visited the prayer wall at the remembrance service, Richards said she came to stand in solidarity with those who are hurting because she knows recovery is a long-term process.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Eleanor Colvin

A Southeast Texan touched by Hurricane Rita walks the labyrinth.
"They say it will take two to four years to put everything back," she noted. "We're still hauling the garbage off. You can see, item by item, things are getting better. But not everyone has gotten relief."

Angela Baker, director of the Rita Recovery Center run by the United Methodist Texas Annual (regional) Conference, knows all too well that not everyone is recovered. "We still have 900 people on our waiting list," she reported.

The Rev. Bob Stumph, a member of the Southeast Interfaith Organization, a group that conducted a door-to-door survey in the Golden Triangle, said one obstacle to recovery is the startling amount of uninsured losses.

"Forty-nine percent of damaged homes had no insurance," Stumph said. "People are trying their best to live in homes with leaky roofs and mold. They have no way of helping themselves."

Forgotten storm

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Eleanor Colvin

The Rev. Jacqui King places a prayer on the prayer wall.
The Rev. Jacqui King, pastor of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Port Arthur, was one of three featured speakers at "Shelter from the Storm." She gave voice to what many Southeast Texans have declared during the past year.

"This storm was often called 'the forgotten storm,'" she said. "Even if you're not rebuilt yet; even if your house still has a blue roof on it - remember 365 days ago you were stuck in traffic, somewhere praying that your home would be safe. God knew where you were then, and he knows where you are now."

King opened her speech with the music of gospel recording artist Israel and the New Breed singing "I Am Not Forgotten."

"We are part of a storm that some people have forgotten about," she added. "But we thank God that our suffering did not kill us - knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us."

To send a work team to the Southeast Texas disaster recovery zone, contact the Rita Recovery office at (409) 892-0140 or e-mail

*Colvin is the director of communications for the Texas Annual Conference.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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