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Episcopalians respond as Katrina batters Gulf Coast
Monday Mission

8/29/2005
[Episcopal News Service]  Episcopalians are already responding to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall August 29 in Southeastern Louisiana.

With maximum winds estimated at 140 miles per hour, Katrina was downgraded from a category five to a category four hurricane, sparing the state its full force as it came ashore between Grand Isle and the mouth of the Mississippi River.

The 11th named storm this season, Katrina forced one million New Orleans residents out of their homes as they obeyed a mandatory evacuation order. The city, most of which lies below sea level, has reportedly endured extensive damage from Katrina's high winds and accompanying storm surge.

ERD acts quickly

Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD), which provides emergency assistance after disasters, was quick to respond to those caught up in the path of the hurricane and has mobilized in support of communities affected by the disaster.

On behalf of Episcopalians, ERD sent emergency funds to the Diocese of Mississippi to help vulnerable people whose homes have been destroyed or severely damaged. ERD support will help the diocese provide aid to community members through two mobile response trailers, equipped with supplies such as chainsaws and generators to assist in the recovery.

ERD officials are waiting to hear what kind of aid is most needed in Louisiana and have offered emergency assistance to dioceses likely to be affected as the storm moves inland, including Alabama and Tennessee.

Rescues from rooftops

After pumps failed in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, filling streets with six feet of water, dozens of people had to be rescued from the roofs of their houses, an ERD statement said.

"We exist only because we are ringed by levees and have huge pumping stations to pump out excess water," said Diocese of Louisiana communicator Ann Ball, who took refuge in Baton Rouge. "Even heavy rains here cause serious problems. The pumps can handle about an inch of rain per hour. If it is heavier than that, the streets begin to flood -- trapping you wherever you are."

ERD announced that disaster officials will begin immediately assessing the damage to Louisiana and Mississippi.

Hurricane Katrina is one of the most destructive hurricanes ever to hit the US, the ERD statement continued. Experts estimate that it caused between $10 and $25 billion worth of damage. If the higher assessments are confirmed, Katrina will be the most expensive hurricane in US history.

ERD offered its prayers for the people affected by this disaster -- those whose homes are under 10 feet of water, those who have lost family members, and those whose businesses have been blown down and swept away. "Please join us in praying for people affected by Hurricane Katrina," said the statement.

To make a contribution to help people affected by Hurricane Katrina, donate to the US Hurricane Fund by credit card at http://www.er-d.org or by calling 1.800.334.7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to: Episcopal Relief and Development, c/o US Hurricane Fund, PO Box 12043, Newark, NJ 07101.

Local response

Brad Drell, a lay deputy to General Convention from the Diocese of Western Louisiana in the northern part of the state, said that his parish -- St. James in Alexandria -- is a second tier Red Cross Disaster Shelter, which will remain open in light of the hurricane.

"After places like camps and dormitories with permanent beds, we are to be called up pretty early in a disaster in South Louisiana," said Drell, who serves on the Red Cross team. "We have a long standing plan in place to handle this; folks from the parish are already assigned to various areas from intake and medicines to security and cooking, and we have a team ready to deal with all the issues surrounding the storm, including linking up with the Red Cross to help folks find missing family members."

Even before its Gulf Coast landfall, Katrina first hit Southeast Florida, leaving at least three people dead and more than a million without electricity. "[There are] lots of tree limbs and shingles down, and many of us are still without electricity," said Mary W. Cox, director of communication for the Diocese of Southeast Florida. "The worst of it hit the people in southern Miami-Dade County ... there are many folks with flood waters still in their living rooms."

In anticipation of the storm, the diocese closed its offices from Thursday noon. A note posted on the diocesan website asked people to pray for "the safety of all who may be affected by this storm -- in our diocese, in our neighboring dioceses, and our companion diocese of Nassau and the Bahamas."

The Episcopal Church's Office of the Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies also offered prayers for Episcopal military, healthcare, VA and emergency responder chaplains serving in the path of the hurricane.

Saving parish records

Once the safety of people is assured, congregations will turn to the daunting task of cleaning up parish property.

"If the parish has commercial insurance, the first step is to take lots of photographs to document the extent and type of damage," said Lisa Fox, an Episcopalian and senior conservator of the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City, Missouri. "The next step is to get things cool and dry as quickly as possible."

Fox explained that the best way to achieve this is freezing items as quickly as possible, which will reduce the risk of mold. "Parishes might be able to transport damaged items to a location that still has electricity to support air-conditioning or--better yet--freezers," she said. "Once the items are frozen, the parish can assess the extent of damage and plan the recovery operation." A simple "at-a-
glance" summary, explaining which media can be frozen and how to dry them, is available at http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/waac/wn/wn19/wn19-2/wn19-207.html.

"If no freezer or refrigerator is available, the best ways to reduce the risk of mold are to maximize air circulation -- open all windows -- and to expose the items to sunlight," Fox added.

"Individuals in parishes without ready access to Internet resources should contact their state archives or historical society for help in identifying local resources and vendors," added Mark Duffy, director of the Archives of the Episcopal Church. "The most important advice an archivist would give in the face of moderate to severe damage is to immediately set priorities for what should be saved and protected and what may need to be left behind. In salvaging records, the records of members, such as parish registers, and those that affect the continuing operation of the parish, such as vestry minutes, trust registers, and computer back up tapes, are high priorities.

"The best resource will be found in getting volunteers who can be lined up quickly to help in the delicate process of handling, identifying, photographing, cleaning, and moving items to drier quarters. Getting advice from local networks and using community contacts for such supplies as fans, paper, freezers, and folding tables will usually occupy the early hours of intervention," said Duffy.

To develop an action plan for recovery and preservation of records, parishioners or parish staff can also contact archivists at the Episcopal Church Archives at 800.525.9329 for guidance and help.