Hurricane Ida rips roof off church near New Orleans; UCC issues appeal
United Church of Christ clergy, congregants and disaster teams are waiting to learn more about the destruction left behind by Hurricane Ida. The Category 4 storm barreled into the Louisiana Gulf Coast on Sunday, Aug. 29, swamping New Orleans and taking down the power grid.
It also brought torrential rains, high winds and flood waters to parts of Alabama and Mississippi. The storm arrived 16 years after Hurricane Katrina slammed that same area, leaving 1,800 people dead.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Lesli Remaly, minister for disaster response and recovery with the UCC’s Global H.O.P.E. team. She spent much of Monday reaching out to Conference ministers and listening to damage assessment reports from area disaster coordinators about one of the strongest storms ever to hit the U.S. mainland.
Deaths and rescues
The president of the power company Entergy said more than 2,000 miles of transmission lines are out of service across Louisiana. More than 1 million customers in Louisiana and Mississippi, including all of New Orleans, were left in the dark. And it may be weeks, in some spots, before the power comes back.
Four deaths have been confirmed. Reports of injuries and deaths are expected to climb as communication returns.
Ida dropped more than 18 inches of rain, 13 inches in New Orleans. Scores of roads simply washed out. As the storm passed, the Louisiana National Guard and other emergency crews launched rescue boats trying to reach people completely cut off by floodwaters. Almost 800 people were rescued as of Monday night in St. John the Baptist Parish.
Church damage in Metairie
Rev. Phil Hodson, new to his role as UCC South Central Conference minister, is experiencing his first hurricane. He’s spent the last few days trying to stay in contact with his pastors in Louisiana.
“Information is coming in to me very slowly right now. To the best of my knowledge all my clergy are accounted for,” Hodson said on Monday afternoon. “They are not allowed back in to access the damage to their churches. All communication is down out there. I’m getting a few texts, but I’ve been asked not to respond, so as not to tax the batteries of their cell phones.
“As of right now the only property damage we know about is Little Farms UCC in Metairie.” The wind ripped the top of the structure right off.
The wind gusts, which reached 150 mph, also took out cell towers and toppled countless trees, leaving areas impassible.
“I’ve been told the roofs of their various buildings are all across the street,” Hodson said. “But until an insurance adjuster can get in there, we won’t know if it’s a total loss or if it’s salvageable. As a pastor I’m grateful we are just looking at property damage right now.”
It may be a while longer before any determination can be made. Area residents who evacuated their homes were told by the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness on Monday not to return to their homes until the area is deemed safe.
Report from Back Bay
Remaly also shared information she received from Back Bay Mission, a UCC community ministry in Biloxi, Miss.
“It’s actually clearing up now but very windy,” wrote the Rev. James Pennington, the agency’s executive director. He said the area was still experiencing sporadic rain showers and flood warnings. Back Bay’s facilities are okay except for some missing screens, and lots of debris and downed limbs. “We will spend most of the day tomorrow de-boarding and cleaning up,” he said. “Staff will be back tomorrow except for those who live farther west and cannot make it through flooded roads.”
The flood threat in Ida’s aftermath stretches from the Gulf into the northeast. Some 71 million people were under a flash flood watch or warning as of Tuesday morning. Torrential rains are expected as the storm moves north.
How to help
The UCC has launched a “Severe Storms 2021” appeal to take donations for Hurricane Ida relief. Gifts can be made online using this page at the UCC website.
“As damage reports and assessments continue to come in, may we pause to hold the people affected by Hurricane Ida in our prayers for their safety, health, and comfort,” said Josh Baird, Global H.O.P.E. team leader. “While the urge on our part to rush to offer help is normal given the destruction we are witnessing, unsolicited aid at this time often increases the burden on impacted communities. Material goods should only be sent when specifically requested by an organization and volunteers should never self-deploy.”
“Raising money for a storm this size certainly makes good sense, as we know long-term recovery and rebuilding will be necessary,” Remaly said.
In addition to financial gifts and prayers for the people in the hurricane zone, making emergency cleanup buckets is a hands-on way for churches to respond. Instructions from Church World Service are found here.
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