Southwest Louisiana Station Shifts Focus to Relief Work
*By Susan J. Meister
September 25, 2008—For the last three years, the Southwest Louisiana Station of UMCOR partner Louisiana Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry has been helping clients rebuild homes damaged from Hurricane Rita. In early September, when Hurricanes Gustav and Ike battered the Louisiana coast, Barbara Abshire, station manager, directed her staff to temporarily refocus their efforts on bringing clients relief items until they could concentrate on long-term recovery again.
"We need to do this," Abshire said. "We need to bring our clients hope."
The week after Hurricane Ike, UMCOR Sager Brown, the relief supply depot in Baldwin, La., delivered flood buckets and health kits to several Louisiana locations, including Cameron Parish and Abbeville. At Abbeville UMC, flood buckets were stacked four-high all along the walls of the education wing. In Cameron Parish, flood buckets were distributed at Sweet Lake UMC, along with health kits, tarps, water, and MREs (meals ready to eat). Lake Charles staff loaded up a truck and began to drive through Cameron Parish to give items to homeowners who were at their damaged homes.
Cameron Parish Homes Damaged by Wind and Water
Lake Charles site manager Kevin Hodge drove by house after house that the Recovery Ministry had worked on with volunteer teams in the last three years. Brick homes were under five or more feet of water. Homeowners who were able to return had already begun to move all their ruined belongings to the street and tried to wash the smelly mud out of their homes. Mobile homes were virtually shredded by the action of the water, wind and waves.
Hodge drove down Dan Street in Cameron. "We had redone every house of this street," he said, as he recalled the names of all the homeowners he had assisted. At the end of the street, Hodge stopped at a two-story home that was just completed by a volunteer team from Georgia. "The homeowner was going to house volunteers on the first floor for us," he sighed.
At another home, a displaced coffin from a nearby cemetery was lodged at the foot of the stairs. Many roof shingles were gone, and Hodge suspected that rain had leaked in. A nearby storage pod with the owner's belongings was simply gone.
"These poor people," muttered Candyce Smythe, the volunteer coordinator, who is a native of the Cameron area. "This is way worse than Rita."
The staff drove by several more homes and passed out flood buckets and water to homeowners. They watched their time carefully in order to meet a 6:00 pm parish curfew. While they were driving, Abshire was discussing a trip to Dulac with her team. Case manager Landie Thompson had been in touch with 34 of his 47 clients in that area. All of them had additional significant damage from Gustav and/or Ike.
"Pictures - even video - can't describe what it's like," Thompson said.
"We Need to Take Care of Ourselves"
Erica Jenkins is the coordinator of Spiritual and Emotional Care for the disaster response ministry. She came by the Abbeville office to offer encouragement to the staff and lead in devotion.
"It is so hard to see what you put together come apart," she said. "I am concerned about the staff and what they're going through. We need to take care of ourselves as we move forward."
"Our specialty is long-term recovery," Abshire added. "While we need to do relief work now, I want us to temper our response. We want to have energy for rebuilding."
"No matter what, we must give kindness and compassion freely," Abshire continued. "I want people to remember the United Methodists for the listening that we do."
Meetings in the next several weeks will define the next steps for the Southwest Station and its offices in Lake Charles, Abbeville and Dulac. As assessments are completed, the area will be ready to host volunteer teams. Ongoing information will be posted to the Louisiana Conference web site . In the meantime, financial gifts to UMCOR Advance #3019695, Hurricanes 2008, will help UMCOR and its partner conferences provide immediate on-the-ground support and begin long-term recovery.
To read UMCOR's September Bright Spots Newsletter click here.
*Meister is UMCOR's Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent