By Eleanor L. Colvin
United Methodist News Service
HOUSTON — United Methodist leaders in Texas feared the worst is yet to be discovered as they began touring churches and communities battered by Hurricane Ike and its 110-mph winds.
"The real question is, what is the damage in Galveston?" asked the Rev. Don Waddleton, a district superintendent whose oversight includes the barrier island community. "We cannot get in there to assess."
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who leads the church's Texas Annual (regional) Conference, traveled to areas south and east of Houston Sept. 15-16, but authorities blocked her group from reaching Galveston, a city of 57,000 people with five United Methodist churches. Another 20 of the denomination's churches dot nearby areas in and around Freeport, Texas City, LaMarque and Baytown.
Ike was the worst storm to hit Texas in 25 years and killed at least 40 people in 10 states, including 11 in Texas.
Galveston was among the hardest hit. City government leaders have urged residents to stay away from the coastal community, saying the city is unsafe as a massive cleanup begins with no power and little clean drinking water.
Relief and recovery
Huie reflected on her tour of damage in a Sept. 16 message posted on her conference's Web site.
"While this hurricane was very bad in places, we are also grateful to God for the limited loss of life," Huie wrote. "The eye of the hurricane landed on our shores, and tropical-force winds extended all the way to the northeast edge of the conference before exiting to the east. Thousands of United Methodists in the Texas Annual Conference are in the process of relief and recovery from Hurricane Ike."
Three days after the storm hit landfall on Sept. 13, more than 2 million homes remain without electricity in Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city. Damage was also significant in Beaumont, which lies 78 miles east of Houston.
"One of the saddest sights is at Wesley United Methodist Church in Beaumont where the winds peeled back the metal roof covering the Praise and Family Life Center as though someone had opened a can of pork and beans," Huie wrote.
The center housed recovery ministries for 2005's Hurricane Rita, in addition to a childcare facility and fellowship hall.
"Children's artwork, their cots and teaching supplies are covered with wet insulation and ceiling tiles," Huie wrote. "It is a mess. However, given the indomitable spirit at Wesley, more than 20 volunteers worked all day yesterday to clean up the water, move Rita Recovery to the choir room, and begin putting their facility in order again. Rita Recovery will be open again today."
A Sept. 15 tour of the southeast district, which covers the Rita-ravaged "Golden Triangle" of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, found at least three United Methodist churches demolished-Bay Vue, Bolivar and Sabine Pass.
Additionally, Ike ripped off roofs of at least a half dozen churches across the conference's more than 700 churches. It also tore off the roof of its east district office, which is housed 120 miles inland in Lufkin. Flooding ranged from six inches to nearly six feet in churches and parsonages.
Huie has requested a $10,000 emergency grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief. UMCOR representative Sandra Kennedy-Owes accompanied the bishop on the second leg of her two-day assessment tour.
Despite the inability to pinpoint specific needs, the Texas conference and UMCOR have mobilized to provide flood buckets, ice and other resources in impacted areas. Three UMCOR distribution sites have been established at United Methodist churches in Vidor, La Porte and League City.
Ahead of the storm
Before the storm hit, representatives of the conference's nine districts loaded tools into trailers that will equip early-response teams to help disaster survivors. Stocked with everything from ladders and axes to box fans and flashlights, the trailers will support district emergency response teams and will be housed at a local church within each of the nine districts.
"These districts are prepared to respond to disasters within their own district, within the conference and everywhere," said the Rev. Rick Goodrich, assistant to the bishop, who mobilized the units on Sept. 16.
The Rev. Clay Whitaker, disaster response coordinator for the conference, said providing the trailers and essential tools for recovery zone work was a vital step in equipping Texas conference volunteers. The conference has nearly 300 trained and certified early responders.
"We're trying to do better about getting (to disasters) quickly," Whitaker said. "We're great at getting there and staying the longest. We're the best at staying the longest. We've not been the best at getting there quickly, and this will help."
To aid Ike recovery work, send financial donations to UMCOR Advance No. 3019695, "Hurricanes 2008, Hurricane Ike." Mail checks to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, and write the Advance number and name on the memo line of the check.