By Tamica Smith Jeuitt, Senior Communications Specialist, Mississippi Conference
Photo right: Volunteers are invited to St. Paul UMC in Ocean Springs, Miss., Aug. 22-23, 2015 for a service of thanks, commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The Rev. Steve Casteel holds on to the signature bright green t-shirt that he and other volunteers wore in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on Mississippi in late August 2005. He keeps the shirt stored in a drawer at his house with his "go-kit" full of items necessary in the event of an emergency or evacuation.
Casteel, the former director of connectional ministries and communications for the Mississippi Conference, began serving in the role almost a year after the history making storm. He said the situation was still dire then. Katrina recovery was a priority and halted all other conference business. He worked closely with Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, who was the episcopal leader at the time for the conference.
"A lot of our preachers wouldn't leave and so we began to develop a strategy to give them time away and move them to other cities so that they could deal with their post traumatic syndromes, heal a little bit."
As the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, Casteel harbors many emotions. He has immense appreciation for the goodness of people who prayed and gave their time and money to Mississippi and a great concern for the loss of so many lives. His also worries for people who may forget about readiness with each passing year since the category five storm.
"People let their guard down. The number of people attending training decreases. So the state of readiness seems to diminish. I hope that every year people take the anniversary as time to think, do they need some training and does their church have plan," said Casteel.
United Methodist reportedly took a lead role in repairing and restoring homes and assisting those who lost everything in the storm. United Methodist reports also reflect more than 63,000 volunteers from 42 states, two foreign countries and 60 annual conferences responded to aid the Gulf Coast since the Aug. 29, 2005.