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United Methodists assist, assess after Rita

 


United Methodists assist, assess after Rita

Sept. 28, 2005      

By United Methodist News Service

In the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, assisting evacuees living in shelters has become an immediate challenge for United Methodists in Texas and Louisiana.

“Some of our most critical needs right now are in caring for thousands of people still in shelters in Lufkin, Longview, Carthage, Lakeview Conference Center and many other places,” wrote Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Houston in a Sept. 27 letter to church members in the Texas Annual (regional) Conference.

Because of a serious overcrowding problem at First United Methodist Church in Lufkin — 580 people at a shelter meant for a maximum of 260 — churches in Houston and nearby communities were delivering meals and working to transfer people to their own facilities.

Huie and several other church officials, including the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, disaster response executive for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, spent Sept. 25-26 visiting churches and parsonages in some of the hardest-hit areas of the Beaumont District.

“All of our pastors and their families are safe,” the bishop reported. “Nearly every pastor in a mandatory evacuation zone left the area. It is also our understanding that all our laity are safe.”

Flood damage to churches appeared to be minimal, she told United Methodist News Service, calling that “a blessing.”

Most of the damage to church property came from wind, according to initial assessments. “A number of our churches will need a new roof,” Huie wrote. “On the whole, Beaumont churches fared better than those in Port Arthur, Orange and Bridge City.”

The worst structural damage occurred at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Bridge City, which lost much of the roof in the sanctuary, education building and a second classroom wing. Many stained-glass windows were broken, and church officials believe water damage has occurred. A new family life center building appeared intact.

In Orange, Salem United Methodist Church suffered structural and water damage in its educational building. Damage to The Temple in Port Arthur was estimated at $1 million and the organ was ruined. However, some parts of the building were usable.

“We visited all the other churches in the Port Arthur and Orange area,” the bishop said. “While most have damage, such as a blown-out window or door or downed trees, the major task appears to be cleanup.”

Telephone reports indicated that church property damage also was limited in Vidor, Jasper, and Kirbyville, she added.

Huie praised the response of area church members and residents in the wake of the storm.

“We are encouraging as many churches as possible to begin worship services again this Sunday – even if it means folding chairs outside on the grass early in the day while it is still cool,” she wrote. “The community needs to see that their churches, which are beacons of hope in the midst of stormy times, are holding steady.”

Once city services — such as water, sewage and power — are restored, and residents begin returning, the church can send in volunteer teams to assist with recovery efforts, according to the bishop.

Hazelwood, who has been in the Gulf region since Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, reported that UMCOR would be opening relief centers in the Texas disaster zone.

Church officials in Louisiana are working with UMCOR to extend emergency response to the Lake Charles area, also hard hit by Hurricane Rita. Hazelwood said towns in the Lake Charles region were closed even to residents and electricity and other services had not been restored.

Cameron Parish in Louisiana was devastated, according to reports. The city of Cameron and other coastal towns were accessible only by helicopter or boat, Hazelwood said.

Donations to support the United Methodist response to Hurricane Katrina 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-Katrina, Advance No. 982523,” or “Hurricane Rita, Advance No. 901323,” and left in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Contributions may also be designated for a specific state affected by the hurricanes.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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