United Methodists respond to Isaac’s wrath

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Almost seven years to the day that Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, Hurricane Isaac made its second landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 28, overtopping an 18-mile stretch of levees and sending 12-foot floods into homes.

Isaac will only add to the solemn anniversary of Katrina as residents of New Orleans commemorate the 1,800 killed in both Louisiana and Mississippi with the tolling of bells at St. Louis Cathedral overlooking New Orleans' Jackson square. Katrina, a Category 5 storm, caused at least $81 billion in damage in 2005.

United Methodists began assessing damage on Wednesday, Aug. 29, and seeking ways to help in the wake of Isaac, which came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane.

The Memphis Annual (regional) Conference on Aug. 29 delivered supplies to southern Mississippi to help with inland flooding and evacuee assistance as a result of Hurricane Isaac.

Bill Carr, the conference's disaster relief coordinator, took bottled water, hand sanitizers, meals ready to eat and some generators to Gallman, Miss., south of Jackson, and Gulfport, Miss., near the coast. "It'smore windycoming back that it was going down," Carr told the conference office.

Flooding is occurring as much as 100 miles inland in Mississippi, he said.

Earlier, United Methodist Wesley Foundation students in Baton Rouge, La., had joined with volunteers to make sandbags to prepare for Isaac's impending arrival.

According to news reports, rescue efforts were under way as people fled the surging water. On Aug. 29, people reportedly were stranded in their homes in Buras, La. The conference office was communicating with disaster coordinators, and a conference call was scheduled for 3 p.m. CT.

Newly elected Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, former head of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, was in the process of moving to the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference.

In an Aug. 27 letter to pastors of the conference, she wrote, "This is not exactly how I had hoped to introduce myself to each of you, but greetings in the name of Jesus Christ as we prepare for Hurricane Isaac.I trust that by now you and your family have a plan in place for what appears to be imminent impact from Hurricane Isaac. I also hope that you had the opportunity yesterday to communicate a plan with your congregation paying particular attention to the elderly, those living alone, single parents and those who might need an extra hand at a time like this.

"I am scheduled to be in Baton Rouge on Thursday, but the weather may preempt our move.&ellipsis; Please know that I will make my way to Louisiana as soon as it is safe to travel.

"My prayers are with each of you, your families and each member of your congregation during this time."


"In this week, the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we remember the energy of the United Methodist connection in disaster response."
-Bishop Hope Morgan Ward

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, who served the Mississippi Annual Conference for eight years, was moving to her new post - the Raleigh (N.C.) Area.

"As we watch the weather maps," Ward wrote on the conference website, "we offer prayers for all in the path of Isaac.Our Mississippi disaster response leadership is fully prepared to respond to theneeds of any impacted in our state.If our neighboring states are impacted, we will be ready to respond with prayers, supplies and work teams.Thank you for working with volunteers to be ready to engage any needed response.

"In this week, the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we remember the energy of the United Methodist connection in disaster response."

The Rev. Wayne Napier, conference disaster-response coordinator, said, "At present time, all (are) encouraged to watch and wait.Thanks to each district disaster coordinator for all their efforts. Early preparation and smart planning helps to lessen the effect of a disaster. It also promotes a more secure feeling when everyone knows they are prepared."

Beth Dean, Mississippi Conference Committee on Relief program coordinator, told United Methodist News Service, "Our current plan is to wait out the storm as it continues to move northward. Not safe to get out and assess damage yet. (It) will probably be Saturday before we fully know."

Jackson County on Mississippi's Gulf coast was under curfew until 10 a.m. Aug. 29, said the Rev. Scott Wright, district disaster-relief coordinator for Mississippi's Seashore District.

"We're just holding on," said Wright, pastor of Safe Harbor United Methodist in Moss Point, Miss. "It's raining pretty good with some occasional wind gusts. I've talked to pastors across the district, and there are some power outages across the area. Our biggest concern right now is waiting to see what the tide is going to do."



How to give

United Methodists can support UMCOR's response to Hurricane Isaac by giving to Advance #901670. A donor can sub-designate for Hurricanes 2012 (drop down on web or memo line in check). To donate, visit www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission.

Having escaped most of Isaac's fury, congregations in Miami were focusing on assisting Haiti, where at least 24 people died because of the tropical storm. The storm claimed the lives of five people in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

"We are in the midst of still conducting needs assessments," Melissa Crutchfield of UMCOR told the Miami Herald. "Our field office is focused in areas of Port-au-Prince and the southeast."

First United Methodist Church of South Miami supports a program in Haiti called Money-Wise, for women who run small businesses.

"If there is a way that we could help these women recover, we will," Crutchfield said. "We will continue to support them in the way that we already have."

In south Florida, Isaac hit Palm Beach County the hardest, resulting in a foot of rain, the Herald reported. The Florida Annual (regional) Conference's disaster recovery ministry learned that one church in the area has sustained minor damage but is still waiting to get a fuller picture.


In Alabama, schools reopened and temporary shelters closed. However, Mary Catherine Phillips, director of communications for the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference, issued a cautionary note.

"I am hoping &ellipsis; that we dodged a bullet. In the larger sense, yes, but we will have to see with the volume of rain over Mobile and Pensacola. We might not know more until tomorrow. Be on the lookout for the afternoon update."


Three states away, in Texas, shelters for evacuees were set up at Williams Memorial United Methodist Church in Texarkana, and First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville was on standby.

"I think we are going to be fine," said the Rev. Diane McGee, director of the Center for Missional Excellence for the Texas Annual Conference. "I ache for New Orleans and that whole Gulf Coast region - they are just barely recovering from Katrina. Our prayers are with all of them."

She said the conference's disaster-response committee has a pool of trained and certified volunteers from which it can draw when a disaster occurs.

*Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Kathy Gilbert, Linda Bloom and Heather Hahn of United Methodist Communications contributed to this story.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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