Disaster Response Staff Reflect on Katrina

Church of the Brethren Disaster Response continues to rebuild and repair homes in the Gulf coast following the destruction caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita a year ago. Aug. 29 marked the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s heartrending devastation as the storm slammed the Gulf coast.

Although the storm made landfall in southeastern Louisiana, heavy damage can be found within a 100-mile radius of the storm’s center in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as in Louisiana, reports the Brethren Disaster Response program. Brethren Disaster Response, a program of the Church of the Brethren General Board and its Emergency Response ministry, rebuilds and repairs homes following disasters.

“The official death toll attributed to Katrina has climbed to 1,836, making Katrina the deadliest hurricane since 1928,” said Jane Yount, Brethren Disaster Response coordinator, in a Sept. 1 update on the program. “Katrina is also by far the costliest hurricane in US history, with $75 billion in damages. An estimated 350,000 homes were destroyed and many thousands more damaged.”

“With the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina behind us, we are thankful for all the volunteers who have followed Jesus’ call to be His hands and His feet,” said Zach Wolgemuth, associate director of the Emergency Response ministry. “Yet we know that the need continues to be great for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. As we head into the second year since one of our nation’s worst natural disasters, communities and long-term recovery organizations are organizing and beginning the process of rebuilding,” he added. “The demand for the services provided by Church of the Brethren Disaster Response is great.”

Brethren Disaster Response is in the process of opening a new project site in Louisiana, and likely will open another this winter in the Gulf coast, the staff report. This is in addition to the current project site in Mississippi.

The new site in St. Tammany Parish, La., is scheduled to open Oct. 15. St. Tammany Parish is northeast of New Orleans on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. “Katrina dumped over 10 inches of rain on southeastern Louisiana,” Yount reported. “As a result of the rainfall and storm surge, the level of Lake Pontchartrain rose and caused significant flooding along its northeastern shore, affecting the town of Slidell and surrounding communities.”

Brethren Disaster Response has been in conversation with the longterm recovery committee in St. Tammany Parish, called Northshore Recovery, Inc., and the group is eager for assistance, Yount said. Northshore Recovery said that it has more than enough work to support volunteer efforts for the next 3-5 years, and currently have approximately 150 homes waiting to be repaired; its case managers and three fulltime construction supervisors will assist in coordinating the effort. Work will include all types of major repairs to homes that have incurred flood and wind damage, along with some debris clean up and demolition.

The project site in Lucedale, Miss., opened in mid-January this year and has served about 70 families so far. Brethren Disaster Response is working with Disaster Recovery Services of George County, Miss., whose director Harrell Moore reported, “ We have about 300 cases that we have not opened that are in our files at this time. We have new individuals asking for help every day.” George County is on the eastern side of Mississippi and suffered damage mainly from wind, driving rain, and fallen trees. Work includes roofing, major remodeling, other types of home repairs, and an occasional complete rebuild of a house.

A recent allocation of $25,000 from the Emergency Disaster Fund of the General Board is continuing financial support of the Lucedale site. The money provides food, housing, and transportation for volunteers, as well as funding for tools and materials. This grant is in addition to an initial allocation for the project of $30,000.

Brethren Disaster Response also has a continuing project site in Pensacola, Fla., repairing and rebuilding homes damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Dennis in 2005. “Our presence is still very much needed there,” Yount said. The work consists mainly of repairs to water-damaged sections of homes, including drywall, floors, insulation, and siding.

Preparations are well underway for two Brethren Disaster Response trainings for volunteer leadership this fall. Twenty-five people have responded to the invitation to attend hands-on, two-week trainings at the Pensacola project site on Oct. 1-14 and at the Lucedale site on Oct. 22-Nov. 4. Participants will learn all aspects of managing a disaster response project including construction, safety, volunteer management, hospitality, and cooking. Trainees will be prepared to take the roles of disaster project director, disaster project assistant, or household manager.

For more information about the Brethren Disaster Response program, or how to volunteer, go to www.brethren.org/genbd/ersm/DisasterResponse.htm.


The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board. Jane Yount contributed to this report. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To receive Newsline by e-mail go to http://listserver.emountain.net/mailman/listinfo/newsline. Submit news to the editor at cobnews@brethren.org. For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to Messenger magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.


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