From The Living Church
Personal Stories after the Hurricane
As thousands of displaced persons left New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, others were moving into the ravaged area as caregivers. The stories are intriguing:
The Rev. Jerry Kramer, rector of Church of the Annunciation, New
Orleans, provided a valuable service by posting frequent updates on the internet. Fr. Kramer was writing from St. Luke’s Church, Baton Rouge, where he and his family fled for safety following the arrival of Katrina.
“As of this evening I have 28 parish families remaining on our missing list,” he wrote on Sept. 4. “Found two more earlier in the day and I wanted to cry with joy. One family with two children made it to Tennessee, another to this area. The search goes on; we are working the phones and internet sites feverishly.”
On Sept. 7 he told of returning to New Orleans and traveling by boat to visit his church: “I could never have been prepared to view the state of our beautiful old church. The waters peaked at five to six feet, now resting at about four. Pews turned over, Bibles, prayer books and hymnals all floating. The water had reached one foot up the high main altar where someone had put out a cigarette.
“Praise God the sacristy was still locked. We filled a garbage bag full of vestments and the remaining silver, locked everything up, loaded the boat, and began paddling for my house about seven blocks north. There we discovered the water still about seven feet high. You can’t even see the front door. Most of our things were on the first floor, completely submerged. Again we docked the boat, filled a few garbage bags with clothes for the kids from the intact third floor and then paddled back down Napoleon to where our journey began. Almost immediately I broke out in a rash and now have stomach issues. Taking antibiotics and threw away most of the clothes I was wearing.”
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The Rev. Rob Dewey, founder of the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy in Charleston, S.C., was deployed by FEMA as part of D MORT, the disaster mortuary response team, to the Mississippi coast. He found there “six blown-out churches, nothing but slabs.”
Fr. Dewey and Bishop Duncan Gray III of Mississippi visited a makeshift morgue before it began to operate. “He blessed it, sprinkled it and all the people working, and the trailers on site already containing remains,” Fr. Dewey said.
Fr. Dewey has been sleeping at the morgue in Gulfport. “It’s a way to
reach out to people doing a tremendous job,” he said. Asked how he was
able to do this, he answered, “It would be tough to do this and not be a Christian. There is grief, devastation, loss; nobody’s at the acceptance stage yet.”
He said a highlight was when he was on his way to meet Bishop Gray at St. Mark’s Church, Gulfport. He saw an Episcopal flag and stopped. “All the walls were blown out but the roof was held up by the columns,” he said. “There were about 20 people gathered outside. They asked me if I was their supply priest. When I said no, but that I was a priest, they asked me to do a service. So we had a service and the
laying-on-of-hands, around what used to be the altar. It was very moving. It was a God thing.”
Fr. Dewey expressed frustration at the lack of coordination by the Episcopal Church for responding to disasters.
“We do not have a plan in place,” he said. “The bishops and priests here are very frustrated that more is not being done to assist them. And they’ve had personal tragedies, too. They need help. I hope after this the national Church will have a plan ready for the next disaster.”
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Daniel Muth, of Prince Frederick, Md., a member of TLC’s board of directors, participated in the rescue of his 92-year-old grandmother from her home in Metairie, La. Mr. Muth, his father and brother, drove to Louisiana, arriving on the Saturday following the hurricane. They found Dorothy Muth safe but without water or power for a week and in need of evacuation.
“We convinced her to leave, got her packed and out in just over an hour,” he said. “By this point she wasn’t much into putting up resistance.
“Lacking a TV or newspaper, she…did not know the extent of the devastation … She appears to be in good health and amazingly good spirits, all things considered.” Mrs. Muth is now residing with relatives in St. Leonard, Md.
Mr. Muth described the scene in Metairie as “surreal.” The buildings “were largely empty with the exception of the occasional stunned-looking resident cleaning up the odd bit of debris. My grandmother’s street, normally shaded by oaks, was open to the sun because of so many limbs were torn off the trees. Her yard was a mass of leaves, branches, and limbs. The house appeared undamaged. The air was filled with a constant buzz of military helicopters coming and going from the airport a few miles west. The sun was hot and the mosquitos were incessant.”
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Kimberly King, a member of Christ Church, Bay St. Louis, Miss., told of her visit to her church’s site after the storm:

“… the church is gone except for part of the bell tower. The entire church, all buildings, the rectory, all gone. We did find a brass cross that was on the altar, and the processional cross, as well as several brass plaques, the Episcopal Church flag, and some stained glass parts. Two of the stained glass windows were intact, and laid on the ground. The rest was gone.”

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Howard Castleberry, a member of St. John the Divine, Houston, assisted with relief efforts at the Astrodome, where many of the evacuees from New Orleans were taken by bus. He told of his experience on a private listserv:

As new survivors poured in, there were hundreds … of single moms with children under the age of 2,” he wrote. “Many had babies only weeks old. These babies hadn’t eaten formula or milk in days. Mothers had lost the bottles while wading through floodwaters, or had reeking ones that were now useless.
There was powdered formula donated everywhere, but only a few new bottles at the Dome. There were jugs of water. So I began to mix
formula like mad. I distributed what I could, but realized there was an immediate need for 50 baby bottles, or some of these infants were going to fall into shock. I called friends on my cell and begged for them to immediately get in their cars, run to the store, and then meet me at the edge of the complex parking lot. I stood there and caught bags of bottles tossed to me from their cars. I ran back to the Astroarena, where we filled bottles as quickly as possible. The looks on the mothers’ faces was a mix of tearful thanks and exhausted relief.

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Among the casualties of Katrina was the venerable bell tower at Church of the Redeemer, Biloxi, Miss., erected in 1891. When Hurricane Camille struck in 1969, the church was destroyed but the bell tower remained. Katrina’s power took down the red wooden tower, which had become somewhat of a landmark for residents along the Gulf Coast. Even though the bell lay in the rubble of the tower, it was rung for the Eucharist on Sunday, Sept. 4.
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On the website of the Diocese of Mississippi, the Very Rev. Joe Robinson, dean of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Jackson, wrote of a trip to the Gulf Coast to deliver some relief supplies. He described the scene as “decimated for a 50-mile stretch. There is nothing but matchsticks up to 10 blocks deep from the beach in some places and banana containers tossed for miles like a deluxe-sized set of dominoes.”
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The Rev. Jean Meade, rector of Mt. Olivet, New Orleans, told of her house catching fire from an ember of a fire two blocks away. Her husband, Louis, was home and asked firefighters from the other blaze to provide assistance. “They were from Alabama, Aspen, Colo., and New York City,” she wrote. “They came into New Orleans even though they were told they were not needed.” The fire was extinguished before there was major damage.
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