Saturday, October 20, 2007

Following on the heels of Katrina

Perhaps many other folks making a trip to New Orleans would have a different tale to tell. Some might have made the trip for the food. In fact, my office mate said “bring me back some beignets.” Some might make the trip for the music—the jazz. Certainly most would come for the tourist attractions—the French Quarter, the Superdome.

Well, I made the trip for disaster assistance. I am a member of an advisory committee for the program of my church that
responds to disasters. New Orleans and a stretch along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas were most certainly disasters after Hurricane Katrina cut an incredibly wide swath through the area. (And then in the same year Hurricane Rita hit an almost identical area).

To get a refresher on the scope of the disaster, you can read
this overview. Picture it another way—the land mass affected, 90,000 square miles, is equivalent to the land mass of all of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland and N. Ireland! Over a half million people were evacuated. The number of homes damaged, destroyed or made unreachable by the hurricane was over 850,000.

What my church does in response is considered a second responder. The first responders are Red Cross and FEMA—even though the response was far too slow, these agencies are the first on the scene and do immediate provision of care. They rescue people, get them out of hazardous homes, house them temporarily and feed them. Church groups are among the second responders who come in and do the long term recovery work.

While my church has long had a strong disaster recovery presence around the world, response to Katrina has taught us many lessons. Before Katrina, we might have focused more on seeing if money alone could solve part of the problem. People are generous, and they do give in response to disasters. But, some problems are beyond the means of mere money to fix.

Before Katrina, we would have thought that recovery might be accomplished in a few short years. We had begun to learn some lessons from Hurricane Andrew, where the rebuilding took at least 10 years. We also learned some lessons responding to the Boxing Day earthquake and subsequent tsunami in December, 2004. There, people lost not only their lives, their homes, but also their means of livelihood. So, for example, we helped replace fishing boats that had been washed out to sea.

Once Katrina hit, and the magnitude of the damage became clear, we decided that we would need to keep responding for at least ten years. So we began to set up volunteer villages. More about these villages later.

For now, let me just say—I ate no beignets in New Orleans, I heard no jazz, and I didn’t even see the sights. But I saw and heard many things about which I will write a future blog or two.

This is as close as I got to the Superdome, or anywhere downtown--in the distance on the left, you can see the city skyline. I took this photo from my hotel room!


Anonymous said...

Hi Donna, I though I was aware of the scope of Katrina but obviously I was not I realized after I read your post. The land mass it covered was huge. The churches quietly go about helping long after all others have abandoned. I will check back to see photos.

Liza Lee Miller said...

Responses are big and small. I'm glad that people are still helping and planning to continue helping long after the headlines are done. Thank you for your work!

My husband is in New Orleans for a business convention. The group he is with had their convention scheduled for the week after Katrina. Obviously, it was cancelled. But, they came back as soon as they could. And, they added to the recovery in a small but important way. They rebuilt a house in the 9th Ward. This is a group of people who refurbish old houses. So, there contribution is small but meaningful. The family that gets to live in that typically New Orleans shotgun house won't necessarily care that it is historically important but that part matters in a different way. The family will care that they have a safe, comfortable house to live in so they can continue making New Orleans the amazing place it is.

Cathy said...


It's painful and, I'm afraid - necessary to be reminded of the scope of this disaster.

Bless you and those like you who stay to help after the camera crews have left and our short attention span has drifted on to 'more current' issues.

LauraHinNJ said...

Looking forward to hearing more about what you did while there - and what plans the church has for the next ten years.

Pam said...

Quite simply, bless you and those like you who are there when and where they are needed. If I could have, I would've gone to help.

Anonymous said...


You do us all proud as Presbyterians and as people of faith with your reflections on the real world of New Orleans--and what our church is doing to help.

Rev. Jim Brown