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Westbury United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas was a hub for relief work by various agencies after flooding in the city in May 2016. Photo by Hannah Terry, The Texas Conference.

Photo by Hannah Terry, The Texas Conference

Westbury United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, was a hub for relief work by various agencies after flooding in the city in May 2016.

Saturated Southwest sees more rain

By Sam Hodges and Betty Backstrom
June 17, 2015 | DALLAS (UMNS)

Another round of heavy rain has been hitting saturated Texas and Oklahoma, causing some additional flooding and the threat of still more. But United Methodists on the front lines reported that Tropical Storm Bill wasn’t as bad as predicted.

“It just cluttered up the yard,” said the Rev. Bill Ramsey, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Bay City, Texas, a coastal town. “Much ado about nothing.”

Ramsey said two downed limbs from pecan trees were all the damage he saw at his church. Bay City generally came through fine, he added.

That was the word too in Matagorda, Texas, where Tropical Storm Bill blew ashore Tuesday with high winds and lashing rains.

“My folks carried on pretty much with their normal activities. They didn’t have that much difficulty,” said the Rev. Vergil Ichtertz, pastor of Matagorda United Methodist Church.

The church is less than a football field away from the Intracoastal Waterway. But Ichtertz said a good local drainage system helped keep the church from any water damage Tuesday.

“It’s been there for a long time, and it’s going to be there for a while,” Ichtertz said of Matagorda United Methodist, founded in 1841.

Tropical Storm Bill had been downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved north through Texas on Wednesday, but it was still dumping large amounts of rain, threating flooding of already full waterways and putting a brief halt on some United Methodist relief work triggered by earlier storms.

“Because of Bill, we had to pull our early response teams out of Taylor, Texas,” said the Rev. Laraine Waughtal, disaster response coordinator for the Central Texas Conference. “The plan is to return on Friday to continue muck-outs and tarping.”

Waughtal said she and others in the Central Texas Conference are waiting to see the effects of the latest heavy rains. That was the word from the North Texas Conference and Oklahoma Conference as well.

Kingston United Methodist Church in south central Oklahoma, near Lake Texoma and the Texas border, has been helping residents affected by earlier floods. Cleaning buckets from the United Methodist Committee on Relief have been part of the effort.

The Rev. Richard Norman, the Oklahoma Conference disaster response coordinator, was in Kingston on Tuesday, meeting with pastors and others to help them prepare for more trouble.

The gym at Westbury United Methodist Church in Houston has been a local headquarters for the Red Cross and other agencies helping residents cope with Memorial Day weekend floods. United Methodist volunteer teams have been dispatched from there as well.

But the church closed Tuesday, due to projections of more heavy rain. Meanwhile, conference officials were making calls to assess damage, needs and resources.

“We’re trying to get a picture for our bishop (Bishop Janice Riggle Huie) on what recovery is going to look like,” said DeWitt Cox, Texas Conference disaster relief coordinator.

Rio Texas Conference officials said they were unaware of any major new problems in their area, due to the latest rains. The conference includes hard-hit Wimberley, Texas, where a United Methodist man was among the victims in the Memorial Day weekend floods.

At the Rio Texas Conference’s recent annual meeting, United Methodists raised some $13,000 for flood relief.

The Louisiana Conference too is focused on helping hard-hit areas of its state, particularly around Shreveport and Bossier City, where some 400 homes have been damaged by flooding.

“The catastrophic weather in Texas and Oklahoma, along with higher than normal rainfall in the Shreveport area, led to the overflow of the Red River and subsequently both Twelve Mile Bayou and Lake Bistineau,” said Scott Spalding, disaster response coordinator for the Shreveport District in the Louisiana Conference. “So far, we have received rainfall 12 inches above normal for the Shreveport/Bossier area.”

The damaged houses are a combination of “high-end” homes and those belonging to low-income residents. “In either case, neither groups have flood insurance. So the high-end homeowners aren’t much better off than anyone else,” said Spalding.

Louisiana Conference churches are rallying with financial support and the collection of cleaning buckets. Grace Community United Methodist Church, Noel United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, along with First United Methodist Church in Bossier City, are serving as collection sites for the buckets.

Emergency response teams from within the conference joined forces over the last few days with response teams from local Baptist churches to assist with mucking out flooded homes.

Spalding said much of that work has been finished, but the rest could be delayed if the heavy rains in Texas and Oklahoma cause the Red River to rise again.

Amid the worried watching of the weather, some clergy joked about the need to build arks, and others took to social media to offer to send the over-abundance of rain to dry parts of the United States.

Dallas, for example, was as of early Wednesday more than 16 inches above normal rainfall for the year.

Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Backstrom is director of communications for the Louisiana Conference. Contact Hodges at (615) 742-5470 or