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United Methodists open storm center in Louisiana

 


United Methodists open storm center in Louisiana

Sept. 7, 2005

By Betty Backstrom*

BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS) — United Methodists, in response to the overwhelming communication and response needs resulting from Hurricane Katrina, have established the Louisiana United Methodist Storm Center.

"The center’s focus is to connect resources with requests for help. People are offering volunteers services, goods and monetary donations. Through the center, these offers will be matched up with the many requests for assistance that will be generated by survivors of Hurricane Katrina," said Gordon Knuckey, disaster response field consultant for United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Knuckey, along with Christy Smith of UMCOR, was in Baton Rouge assisting the church’s Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference with the establishment of the Storm Center and the development of an overall response plan to what has been termed the "worst natural disaster in the history of the United States."

The center is housed on the second floor of the Conference Area Offices in Baton Rouge and will be staffed 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday-Friday.

It will house staff to manage incoming calls and requests; representatives of UMCOR; conference emergency response staff; and representatives of related agencies, such as Church World Service, who are making frequent trips to the conference offices.

A steering oversight committee met Sept. 3 in Baton Rouge under the leadership of Bishop William W. Hutchinson. An overall response plan has been developed that addresses long-term recovery in three separate regional areas of the state affected by Hurricane Katrina. Recovery offices will eventually be established in each area.

The conference’s initial focus is on immediate relief, prompting the establishment of the Storm Center. With the help of UMCOR, Louisiana is connecting with other annual conferences in the general church and with governmental and faith-based agencies in order to coordinate efforts, avoiding duplication.

"In addition to providing effective resources, one of our greatest focuses is providing spiritual and emotional care to pastors and church members and to communities at large," Hutchinson said.

Church leadership and emergency personnel are coordinating with UMCOR on how to relate to evacuees and the issues they face regarding decisions on returning home or resettling in other communities.

"The effects of Huricane Katrina in the New Orleans area break all the rules," Knuckey said. "Right now, it remains to be seen who will decide how New Orleans gets rebuilt. In the city, there are lots of renters. If landlords decide not to rebuild, they have no place to return to. Tens of thousands of people live in federal housing projects that have been destroyed. The path to recovery has yet to be determined."

"The evacuation of New Orleans is an unprecedented ‘diaspora,’ or dispersal, of people in this country," Smith said.

Both Knuckey and Smith emphasized that the initial relief phase will be much longer than normal, and that the long-term recovery may take up to five years. "Right now, the water must be gotten out and the recovery of bodies must be completed," Knuckey said.

"The emergency phase is still not over," he said. "When people can start to return to their communities, then the relief phase can begin with things like debris removal. The long-term recovery will involve creating permanent housing solutions for survivors."

In working with other governmental and faith-based agencies, UMCOR has traditionally led the way in case management. "Our expertise is holding the hands of those persons who cannot recover from this event on their own. Their needs may involve windows, doors and walls. They might need spiritual and emotional support. We are there to advocate, to assist and to help frame ways to make each person’s recovery process fit their personal needs," Smith said.

Both UMCOR representatives emphasized that after other agencies have completed their missions, the United Methodist agency stays on the job for the long haul. "We like to say we are here until the last nail is driven," Smith said.

UMCOR is a unit of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. Donations to support the United Methodist response can be made online at www.methodistrelief.org 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.

Information on providing health kits, flood buckets and other relief through UMCOR is available at http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/kits.cfm.

*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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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