Charities, Gov't Agencies Provide Hope, Aid to Hurricane Victims

Two days after Hurricane Katrina battered Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, assessments of the destruction have grown increasingly dire. Charities and government agencies are working quickly to provide hope to help residents see beyond the tragedy.

The Red Cross has mobilized for what it called the biggest domestic relief response in its 124 year history. Salvation Army officials estimate its organization's total relief costs will exceed $30 million dollars, more than the combined total to help Florida recover from four hurricanes last year. City officials in Biloxi, Miss. alone expected the death toll to rise into the hundreds.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, said it was a "very, very desperate situation," according to the Associated Press. On her government website, she declared Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005, a day of prayer in the state.

"I know, by praying together on Wednesday, that we can pull together and draw strength we need; strength, that only God can give us," she said. "In my prayers, I will also thank God for the strong and resilient people of this state and how they are working to meet this challenge."

The Red Cross reports that it has opened 230 shelters in the Gulf Coast region, housing 40,000 people and providing 500,000 hot meals daily cooked by Southern Baptist workers. It plans to send 2,000 trained volunteers into the area according to a press release. Once Federal Emergency Management Agency officials give the green light, the Salvation Army says it will begin to provide 400,000 meals daily.

“The first priority is to feed those that are hungry, that have no food, and that have no place to cook,” said Salvation Army Divisional Commander Major Dalton Cunningham in a statement.

Despite the difficulties, Bill Feist – the Emergency Disaster Services Director for The Salvation Army's Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Division – said its workers would provide continuous help to anyone who could use it.

"We are prepared to respond to a multitude of needs in many of the communities affected by Hurricane Katrina," he said, in a news release. "We are anticipating serving a large number of people for a long time. As long as there is a need, The Salvation Army will be there to serve."

Rescue efforts have included dramatic airlifts of people stranded on rooftops in flooded New Orleans – which is estimated to be 80 percent underwater. Throughout Tuesday, rescue boats and helicopters operated by government agencies pulled people from rooftops and attics. Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu of Louisiana told the Associated Press that 3,000 people had been rescued through those methods.

Flooding in New Orleans had grown so severe that over 20,000 refugees housed in the city's Superdome indoor football stadium would have to be evacuated within two days because the facility lacked electricity, had no air conditioning and had become unsanitary due to non-working toilets.

Meanwhile, a coordinator from the Southern Baptist Convention put into perspective the sheer amount of aid needed to overcome the present situation.

"I heard a term today I've never heard before: 'cities of refuge,'" said Jim Burton of the SBC's volunteer mobilization headquarters. "It's just an indication of the large number of homeless and the tremendous strain put on relief organizations to meet these people's needs," he told the Washington Post.

The United Methodist Church is using a three stage assessment - short, middle, and long term stages - to provide a timetable and roadmap to help with long term recovery.

Its emergency relief unit, UMCOR, will remain in the emergency stage for an anticipated 10 days, as rescue efforts and infrastructure repair are carried out by the local government agencies.

In the second relief phase, for example, home owners will receive emotional and spiritual care as they prepare for long term recovery. UMCOR says churches are important in that phase because they act as shelters and support areas for the community.

The third stage involves a "holistic" approach which covers a wide variety of needs for the victims, including visiting people in their neighborhoods, providing them with information about how federal and state agencies can further assist them. Furthermore, UMCOR says it will participate in rebuilding homes and assisting with living expenses.

Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary stated in a radio commentary message for Beyond the News that it is important to support relief efforts.

"Now is the time for all Americans to pray for our fellow citizens experiencing danger, grief and need. We can help by working with disaster relief agencies and churches and by offering financial support. Disasters like Hurricane Katrina often bring out both the best and the worst in human nature. Let’s respond with our best—and offer help while it really matters."

To donate to relief agencies helping in the Gulf coast region, please go to their sites.

American Red Cross: www.redcross.org
Salvation Army: www.salvationarmyusa.org
Southern Baptist Convention Relief agency: www.namb.net/dr
UMCOR: www.methodistrelief.org