Resilience and relationships remain 10 years after Hurricane Katrina


Written by Anthony Moujaes

Ripping through the region, Hurricane Katrina made landfall that day in Southeast Louisiana, and swept away houses and cars while floodwaters lingered for weeks from Texas to Florida. One of the most deadly hurricanes in United States history, and the most destructive, Katrina claimed 1,833 lives and caused about $108 billion in total property damage, while displacing hundreds of thousands of people. (…)

Thanks to more than $6.1 million in gifts for hurricane response, an amount that the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss labeled a “huge outpouring”, the church remained engaged in the recovery effort, aiding the Gulf Coast through the end of 2011 — past its commitment of five years. (..)

Through UCC missions, more than 6,750 people volunteered for the recovery effort in New Orleans alone, working a total of 170,000 hours to clean out almost 850 houses and rebuild 110 homes. (…)

“There was a difference between the effects of Katrina on New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast,” she said. (…) “In a lot of ways, it was two different disasters from the same storm.”

In fact, about 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded, largely because the levees throughout the city failed, but about 90 percent of the entire Gulf Coast flooded, with water reaching inland as far as 12 miles.

“We were able to participate closely in the recovery of both areas, alongside Back Bay Mission in the Gulf Coast, and in New Orleans, where we helped set up some recovery work there,” Blaufuss said. “We had volunteer groups in both places.”

Back Bay Mission, a UCC ministry in Biloxi, Miss., serves the poor and marginalized in the Gulf Coast, primarily through home rehabilitation and a day center for homeless people that opened in 2009.

“Back Bay Mission had community relationships and transitioned easily into housing recovery,” Blaufuss said. “But in New Orleans, we had to build those relationships from scratch. Thankfully, were able to involve our local churches — they hosted weekly meals for volunteer groups — and it was wonderful hospitality and a time for local congregants to tell their stories of survival.”

In Mississippi, before Back Bay Mission could begin assisting the relief and recovery effort, it had to assess the destruction to its own campus, with seven of eight buildings destroyed and un-usable. (…)

About 7,500 volunteers worked 240,000 hours, cleaning up both the campus and more than 150 homes in the five years after the storm. It provided Back Bay with a new focus, shaping a ministry to launch affordable housing initiatives to meet the needs of the community. (..)

A decade later after Katrina, what are the lessons learned from the aftermath of the storm? Said Blaufuss, “It reinforced our commitment to local communities in helping them decide how they should recover, and listening to local voices so the outsiders can best assist in the recovery. It reminded us of the importance of relationships.”

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