Bulletin inserts for Aug. 29 look at Gulf Coast struggles with Katrina aftermath, threat from oil spill

August 16, 2010

For those who live on the Gulf Coast, it's not a question of whether a natural disaster will strike, but rather when the next one will come, says the Very Rev. James "Bo" Roberts, rector of St. Mark's Church in Gulfport, Mississippi, one of six churches in the Diocese of Mississippi that Hurricane Katrina destroyed on August 29, 2005. ENS Weekly bulletin inserts for Aug. 29, 2010 look at the situation in the Gulf Coast area five years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the area and as the aftermath of the massive BP oil spill continues to threaten recovery efforts.


5 years after Katrina, oil spill worries mix with memories

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

If you live on the Gulf Coast, says the Very Rev. James "Bo" Roberts, it's not a question of whether a natural disaster will strike, but rather when the next one will come.

Roberts knows what he's talking about. He is the rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Gulfport, Mississippi, one of six churches along the Gulf Coast portion of the Diocese of Mississippi that Hurricane Katrina destroyed on August 29, 2005. He began his ministry at St. Mark's in April 1969, "right before [Hurricane] Camille came and tore it all up in August of that year, so I have rebuilt completely twice," along with making lots of repairs after other storms in between.

As if to prove his point, five years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita raked the gulf, the states that share its coast are poised and anxious as the worst oil spill in U.S. history threatens their natural resources and their people's livelihoods. That worry will mute commemorations of the deadly storms.

"It's kind of hard to start commemorating [recovery from the hurricanes] when, not only are large numbers of places not recovered, but with people sitting here waiting for no-telling-what may happen if we should get a storm that is going to take all the oil that — fortunately for right now — is still sitting out in the gulf [and] all of the sudden wash it up on the gulf beaches," said Roberts.

Katrina was responsible for approximately 1,000 deaths in Louisiana and 200 in Mississippi. Causing an estimated $75 billion in damages, Katrina was the costliest U.S. hurricane on record.

Katrina hit land along the Gulf Coast twice on August 29, once near Buras, Louisiana, just after 8 a.m. local time with maximum winds estimated at 125 mph, and then again near the Louisiana/Mississippi border. The storm caused storm-surge flooding of 25 to 28 feet along the Mississippi coast and 10 to 20 feet along the southeastern Louisiana coast. In Mississippi, the surge damage extended several miles inland. The surge overtopped and breached levees in the New Orleans metropolitan area, inundating much of the city and its eastern suburbs.

The swath of destruction galvanized Episcopalians to join the thousands of volunteers who traveled to the Gulf Coast to help residents recover and rebuild. Thousands of others donated money to the efforts.

One focus of those efforts was Mississippi's Camp Coast Care, which later merged with two similar groups to become Mission on the Bay. The Rev. Elizabeth Wheatley-Jones, MOB's director and chaplain, recently cited a statistical "gracious glimpse" at the work done through the agency: 60,000 volunteers who donated 2,400,000 service hours valued at $45 million, 3,500 homes mucked out and/or gutted, 550 homes rehabilitated or built anew, 2,200 individuals or families whose needs were managed, 1,250,000 meals served and $15 million cash injected into Gulf Coast economies.

Less than two months after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, then-Diocese of Louisiana Bishop Charles Jenkins predicted such efforts. Jenkins, who since has retired, led a morning prayer service to mark the bicentennial anniversary of the day when the Rev. Philander Chase – later the rector of Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans and the first bishop of both Ohio and Illinois – conducted the first non-Roman Catholic Church service in the Louisiana Purchase on Nov. 17, 1805.

The "old normal of being the Episcopal Church with our doors locked, being a church that existed for we who were in it, will be no more," Jenkins suggested during a short homily. "That washed away with your refrigerator. Our new normal is a church engaged, a church that is a servant church and a church that lives not for itself alone but for all for whom Christ died."

Mary Frances Schjonberg is a national correspondent for Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly, where a version of this article first appeared.