UMC starts response to Hurricane Isaac

United Methodist News Service…

In the days after Hurricane Isaac hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in late August, United Methodists in the region deployed trained responders, cared for storm survivors and used church-to-church connections to assess ever-changing needs.

A resident of Pointe a la Hache, La., sits on the stairs of his home which was flooded when Hurricane Isaac passed through the area on Aug. 29. PHOTO BY PATSY LYNCH/FEMA

Checking on neighbors and mucking out homes were the first priorities in Mississippi, where Wayne Napier, disaster response coordinator for the Mississippi Conference, observed inland flooding that reached further north than originally expected.

“We experienced more upland flooding because the rivers couldn’t empty into the gulf,” he said. “The scope of our work grew geographically with every hour that went by. We are seeing flood damage more than 100 miles north of the Gulf.”

In addition, the loss of soybean and rice crops will leave many in that state under economic hardship.

UMCOR has sent $10,000 emergency grants to both the Mississippi and Louisiana conferences, and response leaders reported that cash donations, rather than material goods, are the best way to help those affected by the hurricane.

UMCOR’s Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La., was distributing cleanup buckets and other supplies to flood survivors, and the depot had a total of 9,000 cleanup buckets available when Isaac made its U.S. landfall. In addition to cash donations, people who want to help were being encouraged to assemble more cleanup buckets to replenish the depot’s stock.

Though the depot was undamaged, other areas of Louisiana are facing long-term flood recovery. Plaquemines Parish, southeast of New Orleans, sustained some of the worst flood damage, along with St. John the Baptist Parish and the town of Slidell.

Even in the face of grave damage, Louisiana Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey commended residents of the state for their resiliency and determination. “The folks in Louisiana were as prepared as anybody could ever be because of their experience. They took care of people in their congregations and in their communities,” she said.

Bishop Harvey, formerly the head of UMCOR, agreed with other response leaders who said that cash donations are the best way to help. “Our experience with Katrina, Isaac, and every other disaster is that the incredible generosity of the churches has seen us through,” she said.

A woman near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, wades through flood waters as she tries to save possessions from her flooded home. UNITED NATIONS PHOTO BY LOGAN ABASSI

Journey for relief

At the request of Mr. Napier, Bill Carr, disaster relief coordinator for the Memphis Conference, braved lashing rain and winds on Aug. 29 to deliver a truckload of relief supplies to people in Mississippi—while the hurricane was still pummeling the state.

It was an example of the United Methodist Church’s connection in action. Both Mr. Carr and Mr. Napier were acting in their official capacity as trained disaster relief coordinators.

“While this was a pre-arranged trip, we would never encourage any of our disaster responders to drive into the storm,” said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, the executive in charge of U.S. disaster response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the denomination’s relief agency.

“This was a pre-arranged delivery of specified supplies that were needed,” he added. “That’s very different from someone saying, ‘Let’s get in a car and go.’”

Mr. Napier said the Memphis supplies filled a desperate need with the failure of the Tangipahoa River dam in Mississippi’s Percy Quin State Park. Residents along the river around Kentwood, La., near the Mississippi border, were evacuated as state officials expected waters to rise to 17 feet.

Long before the storm made landfall, Mr. Carr was in contact with Mr. Napier, a longtime friend, to see what he required.

“I told him to call me with what he needed, and he did,” Mr. Carr said. “He had cleaned out his supplies, and his shelves were bare.”

Mr. Napier asked Mr. Carr to deliver bottled water, hand sanitizer and meals ready to eat—some of which Mr. Carr picked up from the United Methodist Neighborhood Centers in Memphis, some of which he bought. Mr. Carr also loaned four generators of his own.

Mr. Carr said he left his home in Kentucky at about 3 a.m. on Aug. 29 and did not make it back until about 2:15 a.m. on Aug. 30. The Memphis Conference encompasses western Tennessee and western Kentucky.

In Haiti

Several days earlier a U.S. volunteer team visiting Haiti had to shift their attention from a work assignment in the island nation to concern for family members back home.

With their return delayed because of canceled flights, the seven-member team from the UMC’s Louisiana Conference had to scramble for an alternative plan, said the Rev. Tim Smith, team leader and pastor of Gretna (La.) United Methodist Church.

Issac brought an unexpected ending to a mission trip that had begun Aug. 20 and involved several days of hard labor at LaTrembaly, a Haitian Methodist church and school. A decision was made Aug. 23 to return to the Methodist Guest House in Petionville, on the Port-au-Prince border, as the storm approached; on Aug. 28 a benefactor paid for a charter flight to take the team to Miami, where they planned to rent a van and drive to Louisiana.

Those staying in the Methodist Guest House fared well during the storm, which tracked further south and west than expected. “We experienced gusts of wind . . . and periods of heavy rain, but nothing like they were predicting,” said Tom Vencuss, project director of the Haiti Response Plan for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.

The plan is part of the denomination’s long-term recovery work in Haiti, led through a partnership of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Methodist Church in Haiti.

Not everyone in Haiti escaped the storm’s path. By Aug. 28, the death toll from Isaac in Haiti had risen to 24 as the Haitian government and humanitarian officials continued to assess the damage, reported the Miami Herald.

Mr. Vencuss said he would be meeting with the Rev. Gesner Paul, president of the Methodist Church in Haiti, and expected to receive a report on damage in the church circuits. Cholera, another possible aftereffect of the storm, “is always a concern,” he said.

How to help

United Methodists can support UMCOR’s response to Hurricane Isaac by giving to U.S. Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670. Contributions can be designated for “Hurricanes 2012” in the memo line of a check or online at

Text RESPONSE to 80888 to give a $10 donation to provide immediate relief to those affected by Hurricane Isaac.

Churchgoers also can assemble cleaning buckets for those affected by the storm.

Susan Kim, a freelance journalist in Laurel, Md., and Heather Hahn and Linda Bloom of United Methodist News Service contributed to this report.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

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