Fifth in a series By Kathy L. GilbertAug. 26, 2015 | NEW ORLEANS (UMNS)
Church members discuss the progress of recovery in the area around Hartzell United Methodist Church in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, which was flooded by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. From left are: Burnetta D. Fauria, Angelique White-Williams and Andrea Sanchez-Reese. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.
The images of the 9th Ward after the levees broke and 20-foot surges of water poured over the area are hard to forget.
Hurricane Katrina pushed structures off their foundations. Houses ended up on top of pickup trucks. Boats landed upside down on grocery stores. Debris blocked most of the streets.
Ten years later, streets are still buckled from the water. Lots are overgrown and graffiti covers the walls of ruined houses. Some people have returned and their nice houses with neat yards dot the landscape – but spotting a living soul out on the streets is rare.
It takes courage to live here.
Three members of Hartzell United Methodist Church are among the fearless who stay.
Angelique White-Williams, Andrea Sanchez-Reese and Burnetta D. Fauria are faithful and fierce defenders of the church and the 9th Ward.
Hartzell reopened in 2007 but most members forced out of the area by Katrina have not come back. Not surprising, since the 9th Ward went from being the most populated of the 17 wards in New Orleans to a near ghost town.
“We are not what we used to be before 2005, but we are going where Jesus already is,” Sanchez-Reese said.
White-Williams, Christian education director and president of the church’s United Methodist Women, shakes her head and talks about her mother, who worked at Hartzell’s children’s center for 44 years serving hundreds of neighborhood families.
“We don’t have people to reopen the center,” she said. “My house washed away, my grandmother who is 100 years old, her house washed away.”
“It looked like a wet, war zone,” Fauria said. “It was smelly and horrible,” she added, her voice trailing off, “dead people, dead animals.”
It took a long time even to clear the streets enough for people to return home, Sanchez-Reese said.
Sanchez-Reese, who is a church trustee and director of youth and an award-winning drill team, said, “We loved our church. People went here because they wanted to be here.”