Hurricane Gustav: One Chaplain's Story

Hurricane Gustav: One Chaplain's Story

The Rev. James Tilbe, UCC Massachusetts Conference, disaster response coordinator recently travelled to Louisiana with a team of other Chaplains to be present for people impacted by Hurricane Gustav.  Jim's experience is as glimpse into how people were affected by the hurricane.

Jim writes…in Baton Rouge, LA

Sept. 10, 2008

The storm approached the Gulf Coast with a threatening power that rivaled Katrina three years before. The people fled to safer ground.  They drove their cars, took buses, trains and even planes to escape the dangers of wind and flood.

Gustav came to Louisiana with great strength, lashing the land with high winds, pounding it with rain. When the storm was past the New Orleans levies, brim full, held. The city was saved. People rejoiced. The news cameras went on to other stories.

However, unseen by network news, the story was still unfolding. Yes, the levies held and saved New Orleans. Thankfully the loss of life was low, but it was still devastating for any who lost loved ones. In an area west of New Orleans, running roughly from Houma in the Bayou through Baton Rouge, there was great devastation. Thousands of homes were damaged or totally destroyed. The power distribution grid was especially hard hit with power lines down everywhere. Tornadoes spawned by Gustav roamed the plains around Plaquemine. A tornado destroyed a row of great steel power transmission towers as if it had hunted them down and stomped them flat. Many people without power were told it would take two to eight weeks to restore service - lasting well towards the end of October. This is a great problem for people with breathing problems in the oppressive Louisiana heat.

All around this part of Louisiana great, majestic trees tell a frightening tale. Many of them now lie broken and splintered on the ground. Some look like they were twisted out of the ground, possibly by tornadic winds. These trees stood for generations against the power of previous storms, including Katrina and Rita. But they fell to this storm, taking power lines and roofs down with them.

The older residents of this area have a similar story. They recite a long list of hurricanes they have lived through by name and then say "This one is the worst." However, unlike the trees, these folk are not broken. They are determined to go on. And God is giving them the strength to go on.

I have been working with a team of about a dozen chaplains who are part of the America Red Cross Spiritual Care Response Team. Much of our time has been devoted to visiting people who are in shelters around this region. The people in shelters are often those with the least resources.

They are poor and have often lost what little they had. We try to support them in their emotional and spiritual needs. Another part of our job is supporting the hundreds of volunteers from across the country who are running the shelters, distributing food, drinking water, ice and other essential items to those in need. These volunteers, like me, are living in staff shelters where a hot shower is a prized commodity.

Although the news from Louisiana has been nearly silent, the need here is very great. Many of these people lived in poverty before the storm and have lost what little they had. The need will continue for a very long time.

I would like to close with a statement I saw on the signboard of the First Christian Church - Disciples Church in Baton Rouge: "No power but plenty of hope." In the face of great destruction and pain, there is still hope.

What you can do:

1. Pray for people who live in communities affected by tropical storms and hurricanes.

2. Make a generous  Secure On-line Donation.  Let's make our goal of $250,000!  Bulletin Inserts are available as a PDF with Color or a B&W PDFPower Point Projection also available (save to your files).

If you prefer to write a check, send gifts payable to your congregation marked for "2008 Hurricane Recovery" with the request they be sent through your Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries, Financial Services - 6th Floor, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.  Gifts payable to Wider Church Ministries may be sent directly to the previous address.

3.  Create a Church World Service Clean Up Bucket.  Help us reach the UCC goal of one-thousand-one buckets.

4.  Gather a Disaster Recovery Mission Trip Group