Hurricane Help - Arkansas

Families fleeing the flood waters and devastation brought on by
Hurricane Katrina have found solace at First United Methodist Church in
Dumas, Ark., one of a number of locations across Arkansas that have
provided help and assistance to neighbors to the south.

The church provided housing, meals and other services for 60 people on
Aug. 28, one day before the Category 4 hurricane dealt a devastating
blow to the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In the
days following, an additional 100 or more refugees arrived, directed
there by Arkansas County Emergency Services. Most are from New Orleans
and small communities in southern Louisiana and Mississippi.

“Some were in shock when they got here,” said Rev. Henry A. “Buddy”
Ratliff, pastor of the Dumas church. “One family just barely got out
and could see the surge behind them. They watched the water cover their
front yard. And they’re telling us about 20- to 25-hour drives from New
Orleans to get here, and the struggle to get gas along the way.”
When the evacuation notice was issued, many “just picked up everything
they could grab and left,” Ratliff said. “Now, they’re calling
relatives or FEMA and finding out their home is completely under water,
or a couple know that their homes have been completely washed away.
They don’t have any idea what they’ll go back to or how. They’re going
through a tough time. But they have remarkable spirits.”

The United Methodist church at Dumas partnered with St. Peter’s Rock
Missionary Baptist Church and began preparing and serving three meals a
day. Cots provided by Desha County Emergency Services were set up in
classrooms and spaces throughout the Methodist church. Games and other
entertainment for children are offered in the youth activity center,
while the adults mainly stay huddled around the television.

“As time goes by and they watch scenes on TV, we’re dealing with a lot
of depression and grief,” Ratliff said. Several trained Red Cross
counselors and local medical personnel are on hand. Some of the
hurricane victims are on insulin or blood pressure medication, “and
they had to leave in such a hurry that now they’re running out,” the
pastor said.
Other churches, businesses and community groups have donated food,
supplies and money to help in the assistance effort. Others have
volunteered to help staff the shelter around the clock.

“Our people have been great,” Ratliff said. “We had several things
planned at the church this week, but they said, ‘We can’t do that right
now — we’ve got to take care of these people.’ They’ve been very
generous.”

Other churches in southern Arkansas have also been assisting hurricane
victims. Lakeside United Methodist Church in Lake Village, Ark., took
its turn serving dinner to a large number of displaced persons staying
at the high school gymnasium. The church is also supporting the local
ministerial alliance in assessing needs of hurricane victims who are in
the area.

[Jane Dennis is editor of the Arkansas United Methodist, the newspaper of the Arkansas Conference.]

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