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UMCOR Opens New Relief Centers After Rita, Responds to Crowded Shelters

NEW YORK, Sept. 27, 2005—“There is not a structure standing in Cameron Parish.” That was the grim assessment this morning of an observer in western Louisiana getting a look at the effects of Hurricane Rita’s punishing winds in Louisiana and Texas over the weekend of Sept. 24-25.

The city of Cameron and other coastal towns are accessible only by helicopter or boat, said the Rev. Tom Hazelwood, disaster response executive for United Methodist Committee on Relief. The UMCOR official has virtually lived in the disaster zones of two hurricanes since Aug. 29, when Hurricane Katrina devastated a three-state area of the Gulf Coast. He was in Louisiana for Hurricane Rita.

Shelter Space at a Premium—Or Unavailable

Reporting from Beaumont, TX, this morning, Mr. Hazelwood said that the biggest challenge beyond the utter destruction is crowding at shelters.

“In Lufkin, TX, for example, the First United Methodist Church is a Red Cross shelter with capacity of 260. Sunday night there were 580 people there,” he said. Sixteen other shelters in the Lufkin area face the same situation. Some shelters were destroyed or flooded in the two storms.

Churches Monday night scrambled to feed hundreds with cheese and crackers. Houston United Methodist churches are delivering meals, water and ice to Lufkin shelters today.

New Relief Centers to Open

UMCOR is opening relief centers in the Texas disaster zone, Mr. Hazelwood said. The centers will stock and distribute supplies from other depots, such as UMCOR Sager Brown, the mission center and warehouse in Baldwin, LA.

In Louisiana, conference officials are working with UMCOR to extend their network of emergency response westward to the Lake Charles area. They are evaluating sites for two or three new relief centers.

Once thriving towns in the Lake Charles region are closed even to residents, said Mr. Hazelwood. Electricity and other services have not yet been restored, as flood waters recede. In areas with less heavy wreckage, the next step is to tarp roofs. “If tarps don’t go up soon, there will be more damage,” he said.

UMCOR consultants have again fanned out through the four-state area, working with a dozen highly skilled volunteers who have extensive experience in disaster response.

Their roles vary. Some are training volunteers at storm call centers. Some are experts in case management. Others know how to mobilize church members in a disaster zone and help them design a holistic response. “I can’t think of a church that isn’t involved,” said Mr. Hazelwood. “Churches are doing all they know how to do.”

Cash gifts will help UMCOR continue to support work of volunteers, annual conferences and interfaith response efforts in the Gulf Coast disaster area as well as other vulnerable regions of the world. Checks can be mailed to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write “Rita” or “Katrina” in the memo line. One hundred percent of every donation to any appeal, including the appeals for Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, goes to support recovery efforts in the disaster-stricken regions.

debris, cross, mud: reminders of a hurricane's passage

Across the Gulf Coast, reminders of hurricanes' devastation. Credit: UMCOR/Warren Harrity

How You Can Help

Give:

Your generous gift to UMCOR Advance #982523, Hurricanes 2005 - Katrina, or Advance #901323, Hurricane Rita, will help those affected by these storms. You can give online, at your church, over the phone at 1-800-554-8583, or by mailing a check directly to: UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Checks should be written to UMCOR with the Advance number and name written on the memo line of your check. If you would prefer that your funds to go to recovery in a specific region, please note that on your donation.

Send:

There is an urgent need for both health kits and school kits. These collections of everyday items will provide displaced families with some basic necessities. The health kits contain items such as a toothbrush, wash cloth, and soap. The school kits contain items like paper, pencils, and items to help children start school. For assembly and shipping instructions, call UMCOR Sager Brown at 1-800-814-8765 or visit the UMCOR website. You may also give a financial donation to to UMCOR's Material Resource Ministry, Advance #901440 to purchase kit supplies that the Depot staff and volunteers will use to assemble health kits and school kits.

Go:

Volunteers will be needed in hurricane recovery. To find out how you can help with hurricane cleanup, contact your United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Jurisdictional Coordinator. A list of these coordinators is available on the web at http://gbgm-umc.org/vim/vimcoords.htm or write Mission Volunteers at voluntrs@gbgm-umc.org for contact information. They will provide details on creating and training a team as well as scheduling details. For information on what disaster sites are currently scheduling volunteers, call the Volunteer Hotline at 800-918-3100.

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