|Texas church helps community prepare for storms|
Barbara Farris (right) talks with Mary Stafford during a seminar on hurricane preparedness at First United Methodist Church in Groves, Texas. Farris is the parish nurse and has led two training sessions to help area residents develop a storm plan, with an emphasis on helping those with special needs. UMNS photos by John Gordon.
By John Gordon*
Sept. 6, 2007 | GROVES, Texas (UMNS)
Area residents learn to develop a
Each new weather report of a tropical storm that could move into the Gulf of Mexico puts residents of the upper Texas coast on edge, still mindful of how Hurricane Rita devastated the area two years ago.
"I do get concerned about it. We all do down here; it's a natural thing," says Herb Stafford, 81.
Stafford’s church, First United Methodist of Groves, is leading a community effort to make sure residents — especially those with special needs — are better prepared for the next big storm.
The Rev. Alan Van Hooser started the ministry after briefly losing contact with some members in Rita’s aftermath and also seeing residents struggle to evacuate due to medical needs or financial problems.
"Hurricane preparations are more than just buying canned tuna and bottled water," says Van Hooser. "We saw lives shortened from the stress of evacuation. We simply cannot have another hurricane come ashore in the Port Arthur-Beaumont area and be as ill-prepared as we were last time."
The church's parish nurse, Barbara Farris, has led two seminars on hurricane preparations, with an emphasis on helping those with special needs. Without advance planning, Farris says they might have difficulty making arrangements or get left behind during an evacuation.
"I think it will save lives," Farris says of the ministry. "If they know the plan's in place, it's going to decrease their anxiety level. And by decreasing their anxiety level, that's going to help them physically to cope with the crisis situation."
Stephanie Lundgreen takes a call at the Rita Recovery Office in Beaumont, Texas.
Church members are encouraged to help identify those in the community with special needs. Van Hooser, who was appointed to the Groves church shortly before Rita hit, also serves on a Texas Annual (regional) Conference committee that is preparing a disaster-response plan.
"This preparation will certainly save physical lives by allowing smoother exits, smoother evacuations," Van Hooser says. "But I think it will also help people to cope, emotionally and spiritually."
Carol Carpenter, a member of the Groves church, says it's time to acknowledge that hurricane systems are all part of life near the coast. "Rita was terrible," she says. "Can't change it; might as well get used to it."
Planning for emergencies
Rita's marks can still be seen on homes near the church. Blue tarps cover damaged roofs, and some residents still live in trailers while they wait for home repairs.
The Rita Recovery Office, sponsored by the Texas Annual Conference in partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, continues helping uninsured and under-insured homeowners. Volunteer teams have completed repairs to more than 350 homes. Another 600 houses are on a waiting list.
"For those who may be elderly and alone, or (if) they do have special needs, there needs to be a special plan for them," says Angela Baker, director of the recovery office based at Wesley United Methodist Church in Beaumont.
"So I think what the Groves church is doing is great and I think they're an example for other churches, so that those who are in need know that they have someone they can count on."
The Texas Annual Conference is encouraging other churches to develop disaster-preparedness and response plans. United Methodist churches in Louisiana and Mississippi are also looking to improve their emergency plans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Hundreds of homes in the Beaumont, Texas, area still need repairs two years after Rita struck in September 2005.
"Preparedness is still a major, major issue because most families just don't do what they need to do to be prepared," says the Rev. Richard Goodrich, assistant to Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who leads the conference. "They wait until the storm is close and then get in line like everyone else."
Not if, but when
The Rev. Freddie Henderson, director for disaster preparedness for the Louisiana Annual Conference, says a disaster coordinator has been appointed for each of the jurisdiction's seven districts and additional training is planned in local areas. "We try to get people to think in terms of not if, but when," Henderson says. "We talk about hurricanes and talk about being prepared for three days of survival."
About 300 United Methodist churches are in hurricane-prone areas in Louisiana, according to Henderson. Information on disaster planning and recovery efforts is also posted on the conference Web site at www.la-umc.org.
Training in disaster preparedness is also under way in Mississippi, according to Gwen Green, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Annual Conference.
*Gordon is a freelance producer in Marshall, Texas.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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