Friday, September 5, 2008

Much of Louisiana Still Without Power

This map from the Department of Homeland Security shows the severity of the power outages.

Clearer Picture of Gustav's Aftermath

While all eyes were on New Orleans and the residents of the coastal communities now housed in shelters across the country, Gustav swept through Louisiana causing tremendous damage. Once the storm passed and the levees in New Orleans held, everyone seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Since that time, very little coverage of the damage in Louisiana has found a place in national and international media coverage. 

While researching a route for a storm assessment trip, I came across some photos submitted from people in affected areas. The locations were noted on most of the photos. I came across some photos from Zachary, Louisiana, just north of Baton Rouge. The images showed much more significant storm damage than I expected. I called a pastor in Zachary who is a friend of mine and received confirmation of the damage in the photos. A little more research and a few more phone calls provided a greater awareness of the extent of the damage throughout Baton Rouge and much of the surrounding area. Gustav's eastern edge drenched the area and pummeled the cities along the Mississippi River with hurricane force winds and tornadoes. Those old live oak trees that are so much a part of the traditional image of Louisiana were broken and uprooted by the hundreds in turn bringing down power lines and crushing buildings. Power transmission stations have received damage as well, and some are reporting estimates of three weeks before power will be restored. Some other areas of the state are not expecting power to return for four to six weeks. Photos of Gustav's aftermath are now becoming available in greater number. Check for several galleries. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Word from the Bishop

I just received a message from the Bishop. Baton Rouge has significant tree damage and wide spread power outages. The United Methodist Committee on Relief will be arriving in the area tomorrow to begin overall assessment of the damage in the affected region. I know cleanup teams will be needed with chain saws and equipment for roof repair. From other news sources I am hearing that there has been significant damage in the path of the storm, but there are few specifics. We need to determine who in our congregation will be available to form work crews to travel south. We should receive specifics from Bishop Hutchinson and UMCOR tomorrow or the next day. It is likely that teams teams will be needed as soon as this weekend. If you would like to be part of a team this weekend or some time soon, please contact the office and give us your schedule of availability.  

Current shelter needs and reflections on future preparation

Gustav is passing through the area and has shared much rain and wind with us. One casualty for us is the server (computer) at the church and our Internet access. I am updating this from home. Information about the coastal areas is slow coming, but there are ongoing needs here in the shelters. The shelters at the Sam's and the old outlet mall need diapers (adult and children), wipes, soap, shampoo, rash ointment, towels, wash cloths, and new socks and underwear for all ages. Games for children are also needed as well as people who are willing to come to the shelters and spend time with the children. 

Walking into the shelter at that old Sam's on Jewella, it is best to enter the side door on the far left. You will probably find Pastor Sione or Terry Strain there at the "medical tent." They can help you get oriented in the shelter and point you in the right direction to drop your donations or to spend time with the children. 

As we prepare for future evacuations, it would be good to prepare kits for personal use like airlines have for people who are stranded over night with out luggage. Also, if the Sam's building and the outlet mall are going to be used as shelters in the future, I suggest that church volunteers partner with city or state agencies to build sufficient shower and toilet facilities, commercial washer and dryers, a medical services area, a children's area, an area for separating those with excessive anger or disturbing behavior, as well as stocking basics such as games for children, diapers and personal supplies. We live near the Gulf Coast. The Gulf is a hurricane prone area. More hurricanes will come and with them evacuations. Costal residents responded well to the call for evacuation and because of this many lives were protected from potential loss. The evacuation worked. If people are going to be willing to evacuate in the future, we must have facilities that are well enough equipped so that staying in the path of a hurricane doesn't sound like a better option. If there are members of the congregation or others reading this blog who are willing to consider this construction opportunity, let's talk. 

Monday, September 1, 2008

Prayers from around the world

I just checked my email and found a message from someone I met when I traveled to Belfast last Spring. I traveled with family and friends from Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia to learn about the ministry taking place at the East Belfast Mission. While there I learned about one of the most amazing projects for community renewal I have ever encountered. The mission is located in a community plagued with deep poverty and the challenges associated with inadequate education, deep ideological and cultural divisions and a failed economy tied to the ship building industry that collapsed from tens of thousands of jobs to four hundred. In the middle of this difficult situation emerged the Skainos Project ( One of the leaders of this mission sent the email lifting our situation in prayer. It is so good to know that we are part of a global community and that we are connected not only by prayer, but also by a calling to and a vision for reconciliation.  
Gustav made landfall with tremendous storm surge, but the levees in New Orleans seem to have held. The shelters in Shreveport are full. Some of our members are housing members from a sister church in Lafayette. Last night the official shelters filled quickly and the influx of guests continued to increase. While some pointed the cars and busses to shelters further north or west, others started to open other shelters. We received some Red Cross workers and today have become a shelter for Americorps volunteers. 

Today we set out to respond to the needs we found as we moved from shelter to shelter. Some volunteers helped shuttle people to get medications, while others took people to see their pets at the pet shelter. During Katrina, some people wouldn't leave New Orleans because there were no facilities to evacuate pets. This time provisions were made for pets. 

We have had people preparing meals for the medical and support volunteers at the FEMA shelter. In fact, as we have continued to assess the needs in the area, we have decided to focus our efforts on this particular shelter. The facility is an old Sam's Club building. It is large enough and can house 2700 people in cots. Currently there are 2800 residing in the shelter. 
For the most part I have been impressed with the improved organization of the disaster preparedness organizations. While I am thankful for this shelter for 2800 people, I believe provisions need to be made for showers, hot water and expanded toilet facilities. The need for back up power generation also needs to be addressed. As I was buying boxes of flashlights I thought about the approaching hurricane/tropical storm with its history of flooding and power outages. I imagined what it might be like in a big open room with 2800 already agitated people in compete darkness with storms crashing all around.  

The extent of costal damage is not yet clear. As I get updates and as people are allowed back in I will provide updates. 

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gather and Scatter

It was good to gather for worship this weekend. People came together from across the City and across the State. We even had some visitors from out-of-state. The service was a call to take the opportunity to turn aside as Moses did at the burning bush. In our case we are being invited to turn aside and meet God in the opportunity to serve. Some people shared areas of need and some shared willingness to help in particular ways. One need that became particularly evident was the need for additional medical personnel at the shelters. One out-of-state visitor heard the call for needed medical personnel at the shelters and decided to to spend his last day in town serving. After church we received a call for assistance helping move 91 residents from a coastal nursing home from busses to wheelchairs so they could be transferred into the temporary shelter. Members of Grace and members of the LSUS baseball team shared in this opportunity. We gathered to worship and are scattered to serve.

Hurricane Gustav's approach speed has increased. Landfall is going to come much sooner than expected. Schools across the State are closed and hurricane force winds are possible in Baton Rouge which is almost 100 miles inland. As I finish this entry, my phone received a text alert from the national weather service alerting me that Shreveport is to expect tropical storm force winds, possible tornadoes, heavy rain and flash flooding.