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Gustav emotional toll considered

Damage assessments begin as faith-based responders worry about emotional, spiritual toll of storm.

BY PJ HELLER | BATON ROUGE, La. | September 2, 2008

"People have come through it physically, but emotionally and spiritually that remains to be seen"

—Rev. Alan D. Cutter, Presbytery of South Louisiana

Damage assessments from Hurricane Gustav continued across the Gulf Coast Wednesday, with some estimates saying insured losses could reach as high as $10 billion. In the faith-based community, there was also concern about the human toll.

"People have come through it physically, but emotionally and spiritually that remains to be seen," said the Rev. Alan D. Cutter, general presbyter of the Presbytery of South Louisiana.

"Given what happened — three years ago almost to the day after Katrina — there is a great need, a continuing need, for psychological and spiritual help," he said. "And this will continue."

Like others in the faith-based community, Cutter was anxiously awaiting damage assessments to determine where response efforts will be required.

"We expect to find out that when we can get down to the Bayou Country — Houma, Thibodaux, Gray, Raceland, Morgan City — we're expecting to find a lot of damage," Cutter said.

He said unconfirmed reports from Morgan City, about 70 miles west of New Orleans, indicated that 80 percent of the buildings there were damaged. Officials in the town of 51,000 people reported there was no electrical, water and sewerage services in the city; electricity was not expected to be restored for six or seven days while water was expected to remain off for four days.

"Due to these utility outages, we strongly discourage citizens who have evacuated from returning at this time," officials said. "The National Guard is stationed at all points leading back into the city to deter re-entry. We will let the public know when the services are available for our citizens to return."

Similar cautions were sounded elsewhere along the Gulf Coast as utility crews fanned out to remove debris from roadways and restore power to some 826,000 residents still affected by Gustav. Utility company Entergy reported the outages were the second largest in the company's history, ranking only behind Katrina.

"Gustav restoration rivals the scale and difficulty of Hurricane Katrina restoration," the company said.

Curfews were in effect in many localities and residents who evacuated were urged not to return for several more days.

"We really won't be getting any estimates of damage until Thursday or Friday," Cutter predicted. "Right now the recovery effort here in Baton Rouge is very much involved in clearing the streets, clearing the power lines that are down. . ."

Adding to the woes was heavy rains from now tropical depression Gustav which was causing flooding in several areas. The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for a wide swath of southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi and a flood watch was posted for a seven state area from Missouri to Alabama. A tornado watch was also posted for eastern Louisiana and Mississippi through Tuesday night.

Gustav came ashore Monday morning at Cocodrie in Terrebonne Parish as a Category 2 hurricane. Nearly 2 million people had evacuated the coastal region, fearing a storm that was expected to be much stronger and with memories of the destruction wrought in 2005 by Katrina, especially in New Orleans. Gustav sideswiped New Orleans and levees there, which failed three years ago and many of which have since been rebuilt and improved, were holding. Much of the city was reported to still be without power.

Gustav has been blamed for more than 100 deaths, most of them as the storm slammed the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica. At least seven deaths attributed to the storm were reported in the U.S.

Response groups were awaiting damage assessments and for the go-ahead to begin their efforts.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief "will be entering the hard-hit areas as soon as the authorities give them the green light," according to a message posted on the Web site of the Louisiana Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

"It will take some time . . . for us to learn more and more about the needs of the people in the Gulf area," said the Rev. Kevin A. Massey, director of Lutheran Disaster Response. "It may take many weeks before we are able to identify the ways that volunteers will be able to help."

Officials at Presbyterian Disaster Assistance urged people interested in helping with cleanup and rebuilding from Gustav to register with the PDA call center.

"While preparedness assisted in evacuation, and the anticipated damage to New Orleans did not occur, Gustav's destruction is yet to be determined," PDA officials noted.

PDA was also seeking volunteers for help in continuing recovery efforts related to Hurricane Dolly in Texas, Tropical Storm Fay in Florida and summer flooding in Iowa.

Other faith-based groups were already assisting those affected by Gustav.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief was dishing up thousands of meals at evacuation centers in Louisiana, Texas, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee. And specially trained volunteers Children's Disaster Services, a program of the Church of the Brethren Disaster Ministries, were at shelters to assist youngsters who evacuated from their homes.

As Gustav began fading from the scene, three other tropical storms — Hanna, Ike and Josephine — were looming.

Hanna, which was expected to regain hurricane strength, was moving toward the southeastern U.S. coastline. The storm, with winds of 65 mph, was more than 400 miles southeast of Nassau by Tuesday evening.

Ike, also with winds of 65 mph, was also expected to become a hurricane. The storm was far out in the Atlantic, about 1,000 miles east of the Leeward Islands.

Josephine, also far out at sea southwest of the Cape Verde Islands, had winds of 50 mph and was forecast to develop into a hurricane on Wednesday. Josephine was the 10th tropical storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

"We are in difficult days," said Massey of Lutheran Disaster Response. "Whether tropical storms or hurricanes, we're seeing an incredible impact across the country. It is a reminder that we are all in this together. The whole country is being affected and, as we've done before, we will all work together to respond."

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