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United Methodists Preparing to Respond to New Orleans Tornado
- Tuesday tornado kills at least one person; St. Bernard Parish hardest hit
- As of Wednesday afternoon, there are no reports of major damage to any United Methodist church
- Conference is readying a response that will include ERTs
- Devastating weather is just another disaster to strike Louisiana
Another disaster has struck Louisiana.
Tuesday night, a tornado touched down in New Orleans East, killing at least one person and leaving thousands without power and hundreds with destroyed homes.
The tornadoes come just six months after Hurricane Ida left a devastating path of destruction across southeast Louisiana that some say will reach 95 billion dollars.
The tornadoes appeared to have crossed directly over Algiers United Methodist Church but left the church unharmed. Rev. JoAnne Pounds says that while her neighborhood looks fine, there is a great concern for those in Arabi, a community just north of Algiers and across the river.
"My particular neighborhood looks just like it did yesterday except for a few small limbs," Pounds says. "Like many tornadoes, this one touched down and sort of 'skipped' up and down the Westbank of New Orleans. I am thankful, sad, and concerned. I am also incredibly grateful that many people have started reaching out and offering to help. At the same time, I am very sad for the people who have lost homes and saddest for those who have lost family members. My greatest concern right now is for the missing people, their families, and the search and rescue workers in Arabi."
The tornadoes come in the middle of a week where Pounds was preparing to preach about fears some have of helping their fellow neighbor.
"The story of the Good Samaritan calls on us to help in the ways that we can and realize when we need to empower others to do that work of caring that we cannot do," Pounds says. "Jesus continually cared for those in need. And in our Methodist tradition, John Wesley called us to 'do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can. Perhaps this is just the moment to provide that good."
Rev. Jo Cooper and her husband, Ed, pastor a number of churches on the Westbank. The Cooper's are fine, as are their churches and their home. They are both ready to begin pastoring in the midst of yet another crisis.
"We all know that storms can touch our lives in so many ways," The Cooper's said. "Most would agree that the answer to 'why' is often inadequate and seldom offers the comfort and relief for which we are seeking. The far more important question is, 'How will we respond and move from this loss with the assurance that God is with us even through the storm?'"
Ed and Jo Cooper know what it feels like to have a tornado rip through a home. In 2019, while serving in Pineville, a tornado tossed four pine trees through their roof, leaving just one tree standing at their home - their Christmas tree.
The tornado hit around noon and the Coopers could not get into the home until late that evening. When they returned to retrieve items left behind, the house was surrounded by volunteers, waiting to help and shepherd them through the trauma.
"We will never forget church folk helping us the next day, bringing strong coffee and strong backs. Ed and I were overwhelmed by the generosity of our neighbors but when we looked up and saw Bob Deich and Elaine Burleigh, we were both brought to tears," says Jo. "We will never forget the circle of friendship and prayers. Our Conference's Disaster Relief Teams were not only there for us, but they embraced our neighbors and others throughout the parish who needed assistance."
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey says the Conference is readying a response, and word will come soon as to how Methodists all across the state and the nation can help.
"It's just hard to fathom just how much work we are currently doing as a result of two major hurricanes and now this," Bishop Harvey said. "It is easy to get overwhelmed with everything, yet what I know about Louisianans is that we reach deep and care for one another even when we are weary."
Bill Howell, Director of Missional Outreach and Engagement, says the response will begin after an initial assessment and with ERTs, those trained in emergency response.
"Our response will begin with debris removal, roof tarping, and tree removal," Howell said. "We encourage those in the affected area to call the Crisis Cleanup hotline, so we are made aware of the needs."
Rev. Bob Deich leads the Conference Disaster Response Ministry and helps train ERTs all across the Conference.
"Our current response includes reaching out and contacting pastors in the strike zone to assure them that their annual conference will be with them in the days ahead," says Deich. "We are ready to mobilize our assessment teams in hopes they can be our eyes and ears on the ground and help us develop plans for the specific ways we will respond."
Deich is also quick to point out the important role trained ERTs play in the days immediately following a disaster. Each is trained to provide a caring, Christian presence in the aftermath of disaster.
"We deploy our trained volunteers to be the presence of the church for those who have been impacted," Deich says. "Our goal is to make homes safe, sanitary, and secure, so the resident can re-enter them. We also will be distributing such items as cleaning buckets as well as providing supportive emotional and spiritual care to survivors."
Deich has a message for those who have lost everything. "We simply offer a word of hope and a reminder, especially during this Lenten season, that no matter what has happened, we can be sure of two things: First, this storm has not changed who you are. You are a child of God. Second, You will not be alone - the church will be present for you, and God will be with you."
If you would like to help the relief efforts in Louisiana, please visit www.la-umc.org/relief or text RELIEF to 800-500-5858
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