As the loss of life appears to be increasing into the thousands, Churches and their affiliated relief groups are mounting efforts to help ease the grief, suffering, and frustration of the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
In New Orleans alone, the death toll was surely hundreds and most likely, thousands, news agencies quoted Mayor Ray Nagin as saying. City officials have called for a full evacuation because the municipality won't function completely for weeks over even months.
Meanwhile, frustration among poor flood victims who couldn't escape the city in time has grown as some aid is slow in making its way to the hardest hit areas because of impassable roads. Fresh drinking water and food are the most urgent needs.
"The people who have resources can get out of harm's way," said Robert Radke, president of Episcopal Relief Development according to the Episcopal News Service. Many residents began to evacuate potential trouble spots days before the hurricane arrived. Others without the means had to stay behind.
Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana, who is temporarily at offices in Baton Rouge told the ENS about losses and looting.
"We've lost at least 18 churches. The diocesan offices didn't flood until today, but I understand they had already been looted. New Orleans is a city with many poor people, and there's a lot of civic unrest."
"But we've had calls from dioceses all over the country offering help, and ERD has been a tremendous aid to us," he added. "This is the church at its best – pulling together and helping each other through hard times."
Episcopal leader Frank T. Griswold called on members of his church to unite and work together by donating to relief efforts of the ERD, which is working in various dioceses in the Central Gulf coast, Mississippi and Louisiana.
"At this time let us be exceedingly mindful that bearing one another's burdens and sharing one another's suffering is integral to being members of Christ's body," he said according to ENS.
For Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief teams arriving in Pascagoula, Miss., on Tuesday, about 30 miles east of hard hit Gulfport, Miss. it had been a struggle against misfortunes which included arriving late to First Baptist Church there.
When teams were not able to immediately provide food and water, residents in need became impatient, storming the church where the teams were stationed. Local church members had to request security from the National Guard, according to the Baptist Press.
Other Baptist efforts were stymied in New Orleans when the lone relief team was stopped from operating by local authorities. It relocated to Baton Rouge.
Various Baptist churches in New Orleans and Gulfport were destroyed. Dennis Watson, a pastor for a Baptist Church in Matairie, La., whose church was flooded, said his 2,500 member congregation trust that God would use the disaster to bring the city closer together, according BP news.
"He uses natural disasters like this to bring people to His Kingdom. I believe America will rally around New Orleans just as it supported New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks," he told the Baptist Message news journal.
Meanwhile, United Methodists welcomed evacuees streaming in from New Orleans to First United Methodist Church of Marshall, Texas. Mark Smith, one of the volunteers from the church noted how nervous the new arrivals were.
"The longer people are there, you can tell they're anxious," he said.
A spokesperson for Christian Reformed World Committee told the Christian Post that its small initial team of five to seven volunteers would go into Mississippi to assess damage, coordinate with larger relief and government agencies, and begin cleaning up. It estimates a 2 to 3 year period of recovery..
"The problem we are facing is it is hard to get into the region," said Kristin VanderBerg, a communications coordinator for CRWRC. "We have to start the cleanup process - cutting down palm trees, rebuilding homes."
To donate to the church relief groups mentioned, please visit their websites.
Christian Reformed World Committee: www.crwrc.org
Episcopal Relief Development: www.er-d.org
Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief: www.namb.net/dr
United Methodist Committee on Relief: www.methodistrelief.com
Correction:Thursday, September 1, 2005: An article on Thursday, Sept. 1, about churches helping Hurricane Katrina survivors misattributed a quote to Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana. It was Episcopal Relief Development President Robert Radke who said, "The people who have resources can get out of harm's way."