Churches contend with Ike’s aftermath


By Betty Backstrom
United Methodist News Service

BATON ROUGE —Hurricane Ike is no longer in the national headlines, but people like the Rev. James Moore are contending with the storm’s impact on a daily basis.

What many people don’t realize is the extent of the water damage that Ike caused in Louisiana, Moore said. “We got water where we didn’t get water for Rita. Louisiana experienced the equivalent of a surge from a Category 5 hurricane.”

Moore and his wife, Marlene, were on vacation when Hurricane Ike slammed into Louisiana’s coastline Sept. 13. The couple rushed home to find that more than 28 inches of water had flooded the house where they were living in Cameron Parish.

“We’ve been through this before. The church parsonage is still destroyed from the effects of Hurricane Rita. This spot was our temporary home,” said Moore, who is currently staying with his wife in the city of Lake Charles.

His experience, as he faces the task of leading two congregations through recovery, provides a glimpse of Hurricane Ike’s impact at the local church level.

The Louisiana Conference disaster response ministry is working with the United Methodist Committee on Relief and consulting with local authorities, assessing area needs and working on debris removal and light demolition. The church is also responding, as it did after Hurricane Rita, to the emotional and spiritual needs of those affected by this most recent storm.

“There are two different reactions by the locals to this kind of tragedy,” Moore said. “Either they escape through work and football, or the disaster sends them in the direction of the church. I’ve noticed since Rita, that even at purely social gatherings, conversations are centering more around the need for church and a faith life.”

Rebuilding — again
Moore is already planning the restoration of Wakefield and Grand Chenier United Methodist Churches, his two-point charge respectively in Cameron and Grand Chenier, La. Wakefield’s structure, destroyed during Hurricane Rita in 2005, was nearly rebuilt when Ike hit the area. Water-soaked walls have been torn out, and plans are in place to rebuild Wakefield anew.

“Right now, we’re looking at installing break-away walls on the bottom floor,” said Moore. The lower floor currently includes the sanctuary, Sunday school classrooms and a fully functional kitchen. “We may ultimately move the worship area to (the) second-floor area.”

The waterline at Wakefield Church hits at about five feet. “The water came in by stages, exacerbated by the tides. The storm hit land on Saturday, and it was Monday before things dried enough for vehicle traffic,” Moore said.

Grand Chenier Church, east of Cameron, fared better with only three inches of water and mud settling in the sanctuary. “We have pulled out the carpet, and the air conditioner is running,” Moore said. “Work has begun to restore things, but we will need additional help.” He added that St. Luke Simpson United Methodist Church in Lake Charles will be housing volunteer disaster response teams.

The self-reliant “can do” attitude of people living on Louisiana’s coastline still prevails, added Moore. “Everyone pulled together to clean out and re-stock Brown’s, the store in Hackberry. Everywhere you look, people are working hard to come back from Ike.”

Working closely together
The presence of The United Methodist Church in this hard-hit coastal area has been a lifeline for many.

After Hurricane Rita, the Louisiana Conference’s disaster recovery ministry played a major role in debris removal and reconstruction. To the north, Sweetlake United Methodist Church has repeated its role of serving as a distribution site for flood buckets, bottled water, MREs (meals ready to eat) and tarps.

Just as they did after Rita, local churches are working with ecumenical events that deal with the emotional stress that is inevitable after such a disaster.

On Oct. 30, Rev. Moore will be working with local city and church officials as they host a conference on dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. The event will largely be attended by members of law enforcement, clergy and those working with volunteers.

Moore adds that, despite the suffering, many positive things have come out of these events. “Area churches are now working closer together on providing physical, spiritual and emotional support to area residents. Also, when you’re wiped out for a second time, material things just don’t seem as important any more. Stuff is just stuff.”, or by placing checks in United Methodist church offering plates or sending them to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, with "Advance No. 3019695, Hurricanes 2008" on the memo line of the check.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is assisting with Hurricane Ike disaster relief in Texas and Louisiana. Donations can be made online