MS recovery will take years

Hurricane Katrina was much bigger than many recovery plans.

BY HEATHER MOYER | JACKSON, Miss. | September 15, 2005

"We'll also have a call center up and running in a couple of days to help register volunteer teams for long-term response."

—Jeff Pruett

Hurricane Katrina was much bigger than many recovery plans, said one emergency responder.

For Jeff Pruett, disaster relief coordinator for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in Mississippi, that means everybody has had to adapt as they've gone along.

"The enormity of this storm has been beyond the plans that most everybody had made, so we've had to expand the plans exponentially," he said. "We've had to help in other areas of ministry that are generally beyond UMCOR's disaster response."

Pruett said one example of a plan change is setting up many feeding centers across the hurricane-ravaged areas of the state. But in other ways, he said the response work mirrors how it usually happens post-disaster.

UMCOR in Mississippi continues to work closely with the state chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) to help supply volunteers for shelters. Volunteers are also on the ground assisting with debris removal and putting tarps onto damaged roofs. United Methodist Churches around the state are serving both as shelters and as supply distribution sites.

Pruett estimates that they have helped more than 25 semi-trucks full of supplies be distributed to survivors and UMCOR will soon have two warehouses set up for further supply distribution.

"We'll also have a call center up and running in a couple of days to help register volunteer teams for long-term response," he said. The main office for UMCOR's recovery in Mississippi will be in Meridian, he added, and three other regional offices will soon be established as well. They are also working with the Marion Edwards Recovery Center Initiative (MERCI) from North Carolina to recruit volunteers. MERCI is a Methodist agency that works in disaster recovery.

Numerous other faith-based disaster relief organizations are active in the Mississippi hurricane recovery as well. Mennonite Disaster Services has chainsaw crews removing debris and patching roofs. Crews from the disaster relief arm of the Kentucky Southern Baptist Convention are in the state as well, doing everything from helping with preparing meals to removing debris to setting up command centers for future volunteer teams. Lutheran Disaster Response is dispatching emotional and spiritual care teams to the state as well.

The need for volunteers will continue for years considering the immense damage the hurricane caused. According to preliminary damage estimates from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), the storm destroyed more than 1,100 homes and severely damaged another 7,200. Another 60,000 homes suffered minor damage. Those numbers do not include the hardest hit coastal counties of Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson - all of which suffered serious flooding and have yet to be able to report any damages.

MEMA also reports that more than 10,000 people are still living in shelters, and those are just the ones operated by the American Red Cross.

Pruett has been to some of the hardest hit areas along the Gulf Coast, and he says the damage is shocking. "Nobody has seen this kind of destruction before," he said.

In speaking with pastors and parishioners from the area, he said the emotions are rough now as well. "It's been an overwhelming thing to see the spectrum of emotions. It's gone from frustration to thankfulness. It's frustration in that it seems like there are times we are unable to do something, and it's thankfulness when we can."

He remains convinced that the human spirit will overcome the challenges, and says he's already seen examples of that. "It's been a joy to see how folks have moved and tried to assimilate to living in other communities," he explained. "It's amazing to see the diversity of culture coming together not because of the diversity, but because of he faith of folks to love and commit to each other in the chaos of the storm."

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