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Church relief workers sees long recovery for New Orleans

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Courtesy of Dept. of Defense

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Shawn Beaty looks for survivors in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, La.
Sept. 1, 2005

By Betty Backstrom*

BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS) — Church leaders of the Louisiana Annual Conference met Sept. 1 with representatives of key religious and relief organizations to coordinate response efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Louisiana Interchurch Conference discussed with Larry Powell, international catastrophe consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and representatives of Church World Service on how the three organizations can support each other during the long recovery period.

“In the current situation, we have one of the greatest opportunities to really be the church,” Powell said. He emphasized that UMCOR will bring all of its resources to bear in responding to the catastrophe.

Linda Reed Brown, associate director of Church World Service Emergency Response, said, “The initial phase of recovery will be much longer than normal. There is so much that’s unusual for the New Orleans area, and in areas along the Gulf Coast.”

Powell added that the unique situation that exists in New Orleans is going to create a secondary cast of victims. “Although Hurricane Katrina has passed, our problems are not over. The suffering of victims without resources or homes will continue to grow.”

As of Sept. 1, rescue efforts were still under way in the New Orleans area, which continued to battle massive flooding. Mayor Ray Nagin said Aug. 31 it was likely “thousands” of people had died as a result of the catastrophe. National Guard troops moved into the city to help evacuate citizens as well as restore order in the face of mounting violence and looting.

Both Powell and Brown pointed out that the faith community would need to have a strong presence long after governmental and quasi-governmental agencies have completed their mission.

Communications within the Louisiana Annual Conference were severely impaired because phone service was down in many areas and cell phones were overloaded. A major issue for the conference office was locating local pastors and church members who participated in the mandatory evacuation from the New Orleans area.

“We have heard from about half of our pastors in the affected areas and a number of church members. Folks are calling the conference office and posting their contact information on our Web site,,” said the Rev. Don Cottrill, provost.

The Rev. Freddie Henderson, New Orleans District superintendent, was moving his office to the conference area offices in Baton Rouge. First United Methodist Church in New Orleans, the former home of the district office, was under water.

Clergy throughout the conference worked with local shelters to offer special worship services. “Our aim is to provide comfort and hope to the thousands of evacuees who are scattered throughout the state,” Cottrill said.

Chaplains and counselors will be needed in large numbers to deal with the shock and grief experienced by victims and emergency workers alike. A victim relief chaplain’s meeting was set for Sept. 2 at First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge to prepare clergy volunteers.

“I’ve been working all day at a large shelter in downtown Baton Rouge that’s holding around 5,000 people,” said the Rev. Irvin Boudreaux, associate pastor for First United Methodist Church. “We have mothers who are separated from their babies and evacuees who don’t know where their loved ones are located, or even if they are alive.

“There are a number of homeless who were homeless to begin with,” he said. “Many of the lower-income folks have no resources and nowhere to go. These people need lots of comforting.”

Donations to support the United Methodist response to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy can be made online at and by phone at (800) 554-8583. Checks can be written to UMCOR, designated for “Hurricanes 2005 Global,” Advance No. 982523, and left in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068.

*Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Louisiana Annual Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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2005 Hurricane Response: United Methodist Committee on Relief

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