'Katrina' claims at least 68 lives; churches shelter those who fled

BILOXI, Miss. (BP)--Baptist churches and association buildings were among the shelters opened for refugees from Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall early Aug. 29 as a Category 4 storm with maximum winds of 140 mph battering the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.

Katrina claimed at least 68 lives, with the death toll expected to rise, according to early reports. Thirty people in one Biloxi beachside apartment complex reportedly were killed.

At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, President Chuck Kelley issued a mandatory evacuation for everyone on campus Saturday morning as Katrina approached. Notices were hand delivered to every door on campus, and all students, faculty and nonessential staff members were encouraged to leave immediately. Seminary classes and offices were closed Monday through at least Wednesday pending the hurricane’s impact on the campus and the city at large.

Chris Friedmann, associate vice president for operations at NOBTS, and a small crew of essential campus security and maintenance workers set up a command center on campus to ride out the storm but no word had been received from them at press time.

Nor was any report available about the 25-acre Gulfshore Baptist Assembly which fronts the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Biloxi. The Mississippi Baptist Convention conference center was swept away by Hurricane Camille in August 1969 and subsequently rebuilt to withstand a major hurricane. Gulfshore officials had been told to expect a storm surge that would reach or rise above the second floor of the main facility.

Parkway Baptist Church in Natchez, Miss., 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 have also 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.

First Baptist Church in Orange, Texas, is serving as a shelter for 115 people, according to Pam King, the church’s financial secretary. The church set up a big screen television where adults could watch news reports about the hurricane, and a smaller television showed movies for children, she told BP. People also passed the time by playing racquetball on the church’s two courts.

On Sunday, some of the church’s youth made cookies and goodie bags to pass out to those seeking shelter, and some provided craft projects for children, King said.

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 said. “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.

Daisy Rosales of Kenner, La., videotaped family members as they passed time at the shelter at Broadmoor Baptist Church in Madison, Miss., according to The Clarion-Ledger newspaper, in case her 2-week-old grandson, Jose Andre Rosales, wants to watch it when he's older.

Among other churches serving as shelters during the storm were Antioch Baptist Church, First Baptist Church and Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Florien, La.; Hornbeck Baptist Church in Hornbeck, La.; First Baptist Church and Southside Baptist Church in Mansfield, La.; First Baptist Church in Kosciusko, Miss.; North Carrollton Baptist Church in Greenwood, Miss.; First Baptist Church in Purvis, Miss.; and Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.

Katrina was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane by Monday afternoon, 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. The city was left with extensive flooding as levees were overpowered and drainage systems were backing up. Scores of windows were blown out of high-rise hotel rooms, the Associated Press reported, and 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. President Bush declared major disasters in Louisiana and Mississippi.

On Aug. 25, nine people were killed, more than 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.


With reporting by Erin Curry, Gary Myers & Art Toalston.

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