By Joe Isenhower Jr.
The 10 or so Synod churches and schools most affected by Hurricane Rita on Sept. 24 — nine in the “Golden Triangle” of southeast Texas and one in western Louisiana — mainly suffered roof damage from winds and falling trees, or were waterlogged from pounding rain.
A month after the storm, all were holding services again, either beginning or about to begin repairs to their buildings, with members of other Synod congregations pitching in to help clean up debris from the Category 3 hurricane.
“East Texas has a bunch of trees, and many of them came down or had their limbs torn off by Rita,” said Dr. Lou Jander, LCMS Texas District mission and ministry facilitator for the area that includes the Golden Triangle and its hard-hit cities of Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange, Woodville, and Jasper.
Congregations’ facilities where the damage was “typical and probably among the most severe,” according to Jander, are:
- St. Mark Lutheran Church, Port Arthur, where a falling tree damaged the education building’s roof, and other structural damage;
- Holy Cross, Nederlander, where a window was blown out and whose education building received significant roof and water damage, resulting in cancellation of its early-childhood classes for an indefinite period; and
- Redeemer Lutheran Church, Beaumont, with trees down, a covered walkway destroyed, water in its buildings, broken windows, and “lots of cleanup outside,” according to Jander.
“Most of the cleanup and repair work is being handled by congregations around the state, as needs are identified,” Jander told Reporter, “but money is going to be the greatest need, [since] some didn’t have much insurance or had very high deductibles.”
Although Rita caused an estimated $8 billion in damages in southeastern Texas, no deaths were directly attributed to the storm.
“God’s hand of protection was definitely here,” said Jander, who indicated there are “numerous stories” of Lutherans who have “helped bring aid to the communities Rita hit.”
Among those is one story Jander himself tells.
Five days after the storm hit, he said he got a phone call from a Lutheran woman in Collinsville, Ill., whose neighbor had moved from Buna, Texas, where there is no Lutheran church and which Jander describes as “a small community north of Beaumont in the piney woods of East Texas.”
The neighbor had heard from family and friends in Buna that “they were in dire need of some very basic necessites, like diapers, flashlights, batteries, energy drinks.”
So the next morning, Jander and his wife, Martha, filled their car with supplies they bought at a Houston-area Wal-Mart near their home, and went to Buna, where they left the items for distribution, along with 600 copies of God Is Our Shelter and Strength, a booklet from the American Bible Society.
“We were introduced to everyone around, and they were all very appreciative of everything we had brought,” said Jander. “The smiles on their faces were all the thanks that was necessary. It was an opportunity to witness and share.”
Monetary donations for helping the Rita-affected congregations in the state may be sent to Texas District LCMS, Attn: Hurricane Rita Fund, 7900 E. Highway 290, Austin, TX 78724.
Across the state line, in Louisiana, only St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Lake Charles, had “significant damage from Hurricane Rita, mainly to its roof,” said Rev. David Lewis, coordinator for district disaster relief with the LCMS Southern District, which covers the state.
“The rest of the nine churches in that part of the state weathered the storm well,” Lewis told Reporter.
Lewis also provided an update on recovery from Hurricane Katrina — the Aug. 29 storm that battered the Gulf Coast and led to the devastating flood that covered 80 percent of New Orleans after the Aug. 30 levee breaks there. He noted that levee breaches also occurred as a result of Hurricane Rita, “only compounding the problem.”
He said that the information he provided for last month’s Reporter “still holds true” that that five congregations — one in Waveland, Miss., and four in New Orleans — may have to be demolished because of damage from Katrina.
“Overall, seven weeks after the storm, the situation in general recovery has moved from the chaos of first response to developing organizations and systems to help people with cleanup and recovery,” according to Lewis.
He said that all 140-some Southern District congregations, “but especially as many as 15 or 20, have been very active in emergency relief — many supplying food, water, cleaning supplies, busy sending volunteers, housing volunteers, you name it.”
“Through our partnerships with LCMS World Relief/Human Care, LCMS World Mission, and others, we’ve begun to establish a long-term system for managing and sending volunteers.”
That includes two “camps” already in operation at Atonement Lutheran Church, Metairie, La., and Lamb of God, Slidell, with others planned in Mississippi. Those camps will house and be the sites for volunteer training.
“I think it would be safe to say that a number of thousands of volunteers — Lutherans from all over the country — have already come in to help,” Lewis said.
He said that along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, “all the congregations are meeting for worship and a number have begun minor repairs on their facilities.
“The situation in … New Orleans is significantly different,” he added.
Lewis said that in the Orleans Parish of the city, which sat in floodwater for at least half of September, four congregations have begun to meet and approximately 12 others continue to be unable to meet because of the destruction to their property.
“There is added stress on those congregations,” he said, “with many members, pastors, and other workers still disbursed, and a general feeling of uncertainty about when people will be able to move back into their communities — how all this affects their ministry.”
“So,” Lewis said in summary, “of the 45 LCMS congregations in the zone affected by Katrina, they’re at a variety of stages of recovery. The Mississippi Gulf coast is probably a month to six weeks ahead of those in the City of New Orleans.”
Gifts for hurricane relief throughout the Gulf States may be made out to LCMS World Relief and sent to LCMS World Relief/Human Care, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-9810; designate checks to “2005 Hurricanes.” Or, call the Credit Card Gift Line, (888) 930