Christians Recall Historic Katrina Response, Collaboration

A year after Hurricane Katrina – one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history – Americans and relief groups are remembering the day not only as a tragedy, but as a defining moment in U.S. Christian relief and aid.

The storm that devastated the Gulf Coast infrastructure and displaced hundreds of thousands of residents was marked with solemn prayers and 1,600 candles early Tuesday in eastern New Orleans at a candlelight vigil, The Associated Press reported.

New Orleans, the hardest-hit city, was at one time 80 percent under water. Nearly 1,600 people died in the state of Louisiana alone and currently only half the population has returned. This fall, only 54 of 128 public schools are expected to be open.

While some plan to mark the day in private prayers and President Bush is scheduled to attend a morning prayer service in the city’s French Quarter, many are reflecting on the outpouring of donations, volunteers, and hospitality in the region over the past year.

“The unbearable devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was met by the most incredible outpouring of support that we have ever seen from donors across the country and around the world,” said The Salvation Army’s National Commander Israel L. Gaither in a statement released Monday. “And, we continue to be amazed by the number of volunteers who are offering their dedicated support.”

Although hurricane Katrina was one of the greatest disasters in U.S. history, it also spurred the largest disaster response effort in the history of The Salvation Army. The evangelical group reported more than $365 million in donations were gathered to serve more than 1.7 million people in nearly every state in the past year. The organization’s Katrina response was said to be more than three times greater than the $86 million given after Sept. 11 – the Army’s second largest mobilization.

Commander Gaither, however, emphasized that much work remains to be done.

Many Christian groups are now concentrating on the tremendous rebuilding efforts needed in the region, often times joining forces and sharing resources, expertise, and funds.

In August, Church World Service – a ministry of 35 U.S.–based Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations – made a joint-announcement with Habitat for Humanity of their first-ever partnership to repair 82 Gulf Coast homes of low-income individuals and families. The $3 million grant – to be disbursed over a period of two year by HFH to CWS – will support reconstruction projects in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

In addition, to HFH’s partnership with CWS, the ecumenical ministry has also join forces with The Salvation Army to increase building capacity, volunteer accommodations and affordability of homes along the Gulf Coast.

The nation’s largest Christian home-building ministry vows to continue its efforts to help rebuild homes of low-income families after the one-year anniversary. As part of its Operation Home Delivery program, HFH plans to have built 1,000 homes by the summer of 2007. Currently, the program has begun constructing or completed nearly 400 homes with the help of more than 14,000 volunteers across the United States and Canada. The ministry has also raised nearly $122 million in donations and pledges for the long-term effort.

“This recovery is not over yet,” said Major Dalton Cunningham, Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army’s Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi Division in a statement. “One year barely covers the amount of time we’ll need. Many people throughout the Gulf Coast are still recovering from the shock while trying to rebuild their lives and resume some sense of normalcy. They need more help and we will continue to do all we can.”