UPDATED: Churches shelter Katrina refugees; 29 Baptist relief units ready to deploy

REVISED, 1 p.m. CT, 08/29/05

BILOXI, Miss. (BP)--Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is preparing for a 300,000-meal response within 24 hours of Hurricane Katrina's landfall in the region stretching from New Orleans to Biloxi; 29 units have been activated at the request of the American Red Cross.

Baptist churches and association buildings across the region were being opened as shelters for those fleeing the storm, including Parkway Baptist Church in Natchez, Miss., which is housing about 350 people, mostly from the New Orleans area.

Jason Cole, an associate pastor at the church, told Baptist Press about 40 church members have joined forces with the Red Cross to provide food and medical assistance. Church members also have provided some lay counseling, he said, to people who arrived with essentially “nothing more than a toothbrush.”

Cole said one elderly woman arrived and asked where she was because in the rush to flee she had lost her bearings.

“A lot of people are completely dazed and in shock,” he said, adding that church members comforted the woman, who broke down in tears when she was informed it could be up to two weeks before she is able to return to her home.

Katrina made landfall Monday morning as a Category 4 storm with maximum winds of 140 mph battering the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. Widespread power outages were reported in both states. Katrina made landfall near Grand Isles, La.

Twenty-five Southern Baptist feeding units have been requested by the Red Cross and four by the Salvation Army. Preliminary site locations have been identified in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, and each feeding unit has been asked to bring clean-up/recovery, shower and communication units with them.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief-related units from Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas Baptist Men, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, New Mexico, Iowa, Michigan and Virginia Baptist Mission Board all have been activated.

In addition, Southern Baptist teams are being activated to serve on the two big kitchens owned by the American Red Cross, the Spirit of America and Henry's Kitchen. California Baptist Disaster Relief will staff the Spirit and Northwest Baptist Disaster Relief will staff Henry's Kitchen.

The Salvation Army has requested staffing on two of their kitchens. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Florida are handling these requests. Units from the Ohio, Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee Baptist conventions will handle the Salvation Army's other requests.

Among various shelter reports, about 50 people sought refuge at Southside Baptist Church in Mansfield, La., according to Brenda Permenter, a secretary at the church south of Shreveport.

“We’re just trying to get food to them right now,” she told Baptist Press. “A lot of them are wanting to head back home.”

The Clarke County Baptist Association in Quitman, Miss., on the state’s eastern boarder was prepared to house up to 70 people. As of 10 a.m. Central time, the association had 32 refugees and expected more to arrive soon.

By 11 a.m. Katrina had been downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 127 mph and gusts of 155 mph, continuing to threaten the Gulf Coast and Tennessee Valley with as much as 15 inches of rain in the next couple of days.

Katrina tore off parts of the roof from the Superdome in New Orleans, which is typically used as a football arena for the NFL’s Saints but was transformed into a shelter for as many as 9,000 of the city’s residents who could not flee the storm. Officials were concerned about rain falling on lights inside the stadium but said the structure is sound. The Superdome lost power at about 5 a.m. and was relying on reduced lighting from a backup system though air conditioning could not be restored.

New Orleans residents, despite being pummeled with heavy rains and strong winds, were grateful the hurricane did not hit their city head on as earlier predicted. New Orleans was experiencing the western eyewall of Katrina -- the weaker side. A potential 28-foot storm surge in the area was downgraded to 15 feet, which could remain problematic for the city that is an average of six feet below sea level.

In New Orleans, homes were flooded and scores of windows were blown out of high rise hotel rooms, the Associated Press reported. Power was knocked out as far east as the Florida Panhandle.

The governors of Mississippi and Alabama declared states of emergency, and curfews were imposed in many towns for much of Monday. Coastal-area residents were urged to evacuate.

On Aug. 25, nine people were killed, over a million customers were without electricity and streets and homes were flooded after Hurricane Katrina struck South Florida as a Category 1 storm. Initial estimates indicate the damage from Katrina in South Florida alone could fall between $600 million and $2 billion, according to AP.


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