7:00 A.M. EST March 23, 2010 | NASHVILLE (UMNS)
After nearly five years of relief and recovery work in Gulf Coast states affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has released its final disbursement of funds for the recovery effort.
“Our work in Louisiana and Mississippi, like our work in Haiti (following the Jan. 12 earthquake) is based on our methodology of being there for the long haul,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, an UMCOR executive.
“I am very proud of the fact that here we are in March 2010 and UMCOR is just now making this final disbursement,” the last of nearly five years of quarterly payments, he said. “Most national organizations did so two years ago.”
Since the summer of 2005, when Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast on Aug. 23 and Hurricane Rita struck it again one month later, UMCOR has been working with annual conferences and grassroots organizations in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Florida.
UMCOR also has supported survivors who fled to other states. More than 1.3 million people left hurricane-soaked hometowns where some 300,000 homes had been wiped out, scattering to all 50 states.
Volunteers, benefactors aid recovery
United Methodists and people of goodwill across the country donated more than $64.5 million to UMCOR’s recovery effort on the Gulf Coast. Funds went to cleanup, reconstruction, family-by-family problem solving and direct assistance to support the survivors.
The remaining funds will continue to support recovery work in Louisiana, where UMCOR has helped the annual conference repair or rebuild more than 9,100 homes so far, and in Mississippi, where it has supported the repair of some 12,320 homes, more than 100 of them from scratch.
In Texas, where Hurricane Rita was strongest, UMCOR helped the conference repair or rebuild 721 homes. More than 8,300 volunteers carried out this work, donating some 268,108 hours, valued at nearly $5.5 million.
“Because of our connectional system, United Methodists are uniquely positioned throughout the country and the world to meet the needs of survivors, including how we rally volunteers,” said Catherine Earl, UMCOR executive secretary for U.S. disaster response.
In Louisiana, nearly 72,000 volunteers have so far logged 3 million hours of donated time, energy and effort, and 160,000 volunteers have participated in recovery efforts in Mississippi.
In the Alabama – West Florida Conference, which was hit by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricanes Dennis and Katrina in 2005, more than 5,500 volunteers repaired, rebuilt or removed debris from nearly 2,000 homes.
“It was heartening to see the efforts of so many people from all over the country, who could just as easily have stayed home,” said the Rev. Clyde Pressley, the conference’s disaster recovery executive director. “I have had a rebirth in my heart over the value of the connectional church.”
Disaster case management
UMCOR became a conduit for overseas donations when it was tapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to administer another $66 million in contributions from foreign governments in a project called Katrina Aid Today.
The project’s objective was to prepare and support the management of individual cases of hurricane survivors. Over 24 months, Katrina Aid Today followed 72,770 cases, representing 193,568 individual survivors who were either living in their homes or relocated.
Although the final disbursement of funds has been made to the Gulf Coast, UMCOR’s work is not done. “We’ll continue to be involved for up to two more years,” Hazelwood said.
“It’s an opportune moment,” he added, “when we’re in the beginning stages of relief and recovery in Haiti, to mark this final disbursement of funds for our Katrina/Rita effort five years after the hurricanes. It really reflects how UMCOR’s ministry unfolds among the people over a period of years.”
*Unger is a staff writer for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.