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Florida United Methodists say there’s still damage, but also hope along Gulf Coast

Florida United Methodists say there’s still damage, but also hope along Gulf Coast

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida United Methodists say there’s still damage, but also hope along Gulf Coast

Sept. 8, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0542}

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

It seemed as though time stopped last August 29. Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast region, destroying thousands of homes and businesses. One year later, it seems little has changed.

“It blew us away. You could drive for miles, and it looked like the hurricane just hit a month ago,” said Gary Tiller, who traveled to the region in June with Beach United Methodist Church in Jacksonville Beach.

Blake Garner from Avondale United Methodist Church in Jacksonville made a similar journey that month with his mission group. “You look around and think there’s no way this will ever be normal again,” he said.

Youth from Trinity United Methodist Church in DeLand work on replacing the roof of a house in Gulfport, Miss., during the group's mission trip to the area July 1-8. Photo by the Rev. Ivan Corbin, Photo #06-431.

One month later, the Rev. Ivan Corbin of Trinity United Methodist Church in DeLand traveled to Gulfport, Miss., with 18 of his church members. They found much the same.

The three men and their fellow team members are just a few of the many United Methodists in the conference who have traveled to the Gulf Coast region to help rebuild in the wake of a storm that caused an estimated 1,800 deaths, the evacuation of more than a million people and about $81 billion in damages, according to the National Hurricane Center. They and members of other churches spent time in damaged areas this summer in lieu of mission trips to other locations.

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Corbin saw downtown office buildings that were still missing roofs and things that were a bit surreal. “I’d look through the windows and see desks as they were, computers on the floor … file cabinets were outside with files still hanging out,” he said.

The seven adults and 11 youth in Corbin’s group learned for the first time how to shingle a roof. They spent time re-roofing the house of a woman who was still waiting to be paid by her insurance company. They helped a widow who had no relatives connect with a senior citizen agency.

The 55 members of Beach United Methodist Church who traveled to the region for what Tiller called a music and mission trip included the church’s “Sold Out” youth worship team, which gave six evening performances. The team donated more than $13,000 in cash and gift cards for needy families and by the end of June had delivered more than 8,000 pounds of sheetrock and drywall to three relief centers. In Slidell, La., they delivered a house full of furniture to a family ready to move from a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency into a new home.

Some believe it could be another 10 years before the Gulf Coast is restored and no longer shows signs of storm damage. Garner’s youth group has made five mission trips to the area since Katrina hit.

“No real rebuilding has started. People are just trying to eek out a living,” he said. “But they’re resilient. People are slowly starting to trickle back, but they’re on the edge of a new hurricane season.”

This Episcopal church in Gulfport, Miss., like its nearby neighbor, First Presbyterian Church, sustained damage that still needs repair. Both churches are about a block from the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by the Rev. Ivan Corbin, Photo #06-432.

Garner recalls driving down I-10 to Biloxi. He noticed that repairs are still being made from Hurricane Ivan a couple years ago and blue tarps are still on roofs in Pensacola. When he saw the devastation from Katrina, he knew he had to act. “All of us had to do something. We felt rage, sadness and this overwhelming need to move,” he said.

And for that action team members said they found gratitude everywhere they went. Corbin said he felt people’s appreciation. “The fact that people cared enough to take off from work and drive to an area they’ve never been to … that meant a lot to people.”

When Tiller brought his group’s gifts to Trinity United Methodist Church in Gulfport, the church members there were overwhelmed. “They didn’t know we were coming with all that. It was tearful, very emotional. They couldn’t believe it,” he said.

One year after Hurricane Katrina, there’s progress; yet the task of rebuilding is still a monumental one. “There’s so much to do. You can’t do enough in one lifetime,” Garner said.

There are signs of hope, however, and symbols of a new beginning. Corbin found a tree still growing behind a Presbyterian church. And then, beside an Episcopal church, he spotted a statue of an angel with its arms outstretched. Hurricane Katrina drowned much of the Gulf Coast, but these missionaries believe the area will rise again.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.