Hurricane Katrina's impact on New Orleans area churches

November 8, 2005

A letter from the New Orleans Association Moderator tells Hurricane Katrina's impact.

A letter from the New Orleans Association Moderator

Greetings,

God is still speaking here in the New Orleans Association of the United Church of Christ and a voice that is coming through loud and clear is saying that everything is changing both short term and long term. The magnitude of Hurricane Katrina's impact has been profound. Here are a few snapshots that will help create this changing picture in your mind:

If you were to crumble a saltine cracker and let the crumbs fall into a pile, that pile would resemble what the boats now look like at the New Orleans Yacht Club.

A friend commented when comparing house flood levels, that their home only had 18 inches of water which did not sound to bad, but then added this was in reference to the water level on the second floor of their home.

Imagine being spiritually nurtured from a child to an adult in the same church and this is where you raised your children and where all of your family grew up. This is also where your social life has developed from the youth group to today's guild or men's group, and then you realize that you are now, the only member of that church who is still residing in the New Orleans area.

Can you imagine refuse segregated into sections that are city blocks long (furniture & drywall in one section, trees & wood in another section, etc), that is approximately one half block wide and over two stories high that extends for more than a mile?

Evacuees were overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness extended to them by unknown brothers and sisters in their new locations. Residents jumped at the opportunity to provide medical and physical comforts, warm meals and a touch of kindness and humanity that was a welcomed new and fresh experience.

Some stores in the metropolitan area may open at 9:00 AM with long thick lines of residents waiting to enter, but the stores need to close their doors at 4:00 PM in order to leave by 5:00 PM as there are not enough employees in the area to work two shifts.

A senior citizen who witnessed the hurricane observed the heavy gusts of wind that would bend & hold the huge pine and oak trees to the ground and when the strong gusts of wind would cease as quickly as they came, the trees would whip back to their upright position and that is when the limbs would snap and fall on buildings and tumble to the ground.

Change does offer a time for great opportunity. Little Farms United Church of Christ in River Ridge received roof, water and wind damage and some windows were broken allowing water to do minor interior damage. However, the spirit at Little Farms enabled them to hold their fifth worship service since Katrina visited. Little Farms also held an earlier planned Oktoberfest, a needed opportunity to reach out and gather together. This event was widely attended by members as well as many folks from the local neighborhood that had the need to share and socialize together as a community. Little Farms looks forward to housing work groups that will be coming into the area. One of the changes that impacts Little Farms as well as the other New Orleans Association churches is trying to determine which members still might return to their home area as well as waiting to learn the future plans of those friends and members whose voices you still have not heard.

Central Congregational United Church of Christ in New Orleans had windows broken, some water damage in the church, some roof damage and flooding in the office area. The parsonage also received quite a bit of water damage. Many members of Central lost everything as their home flood water level was devastating. There is a concern at Central and other mid city churches that senior members may not return to this area because of their devastated homes where they raised their children. The memories and loss of memorabilia were just too great. Like those oak and pine trees, Katrina may have pinned Central to the ground with damage and a redistribution of some members, but Central United Church of Christ is planning to rebuild with a renewed spirit and a new vision. Central's recovery may not resemble the term "whip back" like the trees recovered from the strong gusts of wind, as our National Staff has been helping us understand that long term rehabilitation with these circumstances can be as long as five to seven years.

Beecher Memorial United Church of Christ had interior flood water levels that were several feet high. Mold is taking over the empty structure, but they are waiting on information from insurance adjusters as well as the City of New Orleans to determine the guidelines as to which buildings might be destroyed or rebuilt. The water level in the 9th Ward that consumed Beecher?s sanctuary, educational facility and 99% of members residences, was so damaging, a tour through the neighborhoods would be similar to pictures you have seen of ghost towns in the old West where all of the remaining structures are coated with dust. However these brown homes are coated with mud-leaving sustained water marks somewhere between the window tops and the roof lines. Beecher Memorial United Church of Christ continues to locate their brothers and sisters however they are scattered from California to the East Coast. Beecher was beginning the search process for a new pastor when Katrina landed and the interim minister was to begin that next week. Beecher intends to plan a special worship service that will be held in Baton Rouge, LA as several members have relocated to that area.

Bethel United Church of Christ is a very small congregation and the sanctuary and educational unit is located just a couple of miles from Beecher. Here again, the building has been severely damaged and holes have developed in the front doors due to Katrina's force. The damage created around Central, Beecher and Bethel is one of those elements that just cannot fully impact you until you actually see it for yourself. However, the real impact of this damage is greatly enhanced at night. If you were flying over the city you would see area?s where there are the street.

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