Christian Volunteers Take On Massive Gulf Coast Clean-Up Operations

Almost a month and a half after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, clean-up crews are only in the beginning stages of removing debris and clearing away water-damaged items.

Emergency food relief and shelters for displaced survivors have begun to die down and relief groups are turning their focus to the clean-up process. Fallen trees, damaged phone lines, water-damaged cars and refrigerators are among the long list of items that will need to be cleared away during the arduous process of rebuilding the devastated areas.

Although volunteers and donations have generously flowed into the region, relief organizations are still daunted by the task of cleaning up the mess left behind by Katrina. Cities such as New Orleans, which was at one point 70 percent flooded, have made the initial step in the rebuilding process of the Gulf Coast difficult.

“[The] clean-up is a huge task, and some areas aren’t cleaned up at all yet, and it’s been a month since Katrina,” said Church World Service (CWS) disaster responder Tim Johnson.

“Long-term looks a long way off for many along the Gulf Coast and even farther inland,” Johnson commented.

Removing fallen trees and clearing away debris from homes and streets is an important part of the clean-up process and groups such as Operation Blessing International (OBI) and Church Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) are lending a helping hand in this effort.

In Moss Point, Miss., CWS’s Melina Pavlides reported seeing “one neighborhood of modest little homes, built one after another in rows.”

“They’re ruined,” she continued. “They may have to just bulldoze all of the homes. People would be able to keep their land and rebuild. Reportedly, contractors may waive the bulldoze fees.”

On Oct. 4, OBI’s new 18-ton crane began removing trees from roofs of homes in Slidell, La. OBI is partnering with Christian Contractors Association, a Florida-based group, to remove the fallen trees for free. OBI reported that some contractors in the areas are charging the victims as much as $7,000 to remove a single tree.

“There are hundreds of homes in Slidell with large trees on their roofs. Roof repair is impossible until the trees are removed … OBI will do the work for free and their volunteer crews will come behind the crane with a tarp and/or repair the roofs,” reported OBI in a statement.

Supporting the immense clean-up operation are the millions of dollars needed for equipments, construction materials and other expenses. Christians have been generous in their donations, with CRWRC having raised $3.2 million of its $5 million goal, OBI distributing $2,720,300 in cash grants to 143 faith based organizations, and World Vision receiving an estimated $6 million worth of donated goods.

Meanwhile, Jim Burton, director of volunteer mobilization of North American Mission Board (NAMB) said, "While the feeding operations level out, we continue to see cleanup and recovery operations escalate.”

“The number of damaged homes and churches is overwhelming,” he added. “Volunteers will be needed for years to assist in the long-term recovery efforts.”