REPORTS* COMPILED BY SANDRA BLACKMER, news editor of the Adventist Review
In the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina?s 145 mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains along the U. S. Gulf Coast on August 29, Adventist relief organizations, conferences, and schools have mobilized to provide basic necessities for survivors and to help them cope with the devastation throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Adventist Community Services
The North American Division Adventist Community Services (ACS) has been working with local conference and union disaster response teams as well as government agencies to set up designated distribution sites where survivors can get food, water, blankets, new clothing, and toiletry items.
?We [have been] working with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) [and have] set up a multiagency warehouse nearby the devastated areas in Louisiana,? said one ACS director, Lavida Whitson, of the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference. ?The multiagency warehouse is being managed by ACS Disaster Response and used to supply state-designated distribution sites. Our warehouse operation is where volunteers sort and package donated goods, pull orders, and load trucks for delivery to the affected areas.?
It has been reported that at least 15 Adventist churches in New Orleans and surrounding areas are under water, as well as three elementary schools in the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference, but no Adventist families are known to have suffered casualties.
Rebecca Grice, Gulf States Conference communication director, reported that Bass Memorial Academy in Lumberton, Mississippi, suffered extensive damage. ?The music building has lost the roof, along with the chapel, the new computer lab, and the cafeteria,? says Grice. ?The gym has lost the roof and one of the walls has collapsed. The boys? dorm has lost part of the roof. The church has lost part of the roof and is flooded from the rain. We have heard of no one being hurt, for which we are very thankful.?
?The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America joins with this nation in praying with and for the individuals affected by the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina,? said Don Schneider, president of the North American Division, in a written statement. ?In times like these, we need to band together to help those who are in great need.?
Students from Andrews and Southern Adventist universities have already traveled to Bass Academy to cut up felled trees; clear roads and driveways of debris; remove carpet, tiles, and insulation, and feed hundreds in the area.
?I assumed you?d have to get within 50 miles of New Orleans for it to be that bad,? said Frances Faehner, Andrews vice president for student services, when describing her first impressions of the affected region. ?There were road signs, wires, and telephone poles just lying every which way. You could see rows of 50 trees just snapped off.?
Students? efforts were not confined to the campus alone. Dave Gillis, third-year architecture student at Andrews and a licensed roofer, headed a roofing team that reshingled a home in the community and most of the academy?s damaged boys? dormitory within three days. The 26-member crew worked 10-hour days in 100-degree heat, and set up a generator and lights so they could continue roofing after dark. ?We knew we were leaving soon, and wanted to do as much as we could before we left,? Gillis explains.
Students also teamed up with Adventist Community Team Services (ACTS), a volunteer disaster response team from Florida in charge of food distribution centers at Bass Academy and in nearby Purvis. Workers in the two kitchens served about 5,000 meals per day to the community.
?Anyone we helped was so grateful?people were crying all the time,? says Erica Slikkers, an Andrews senior public relations major. ?It was a huge blend of people, not only from poverty situations, but driving nice cars. All of a sudden they didn?t have anything?their world was turned upside down.?
Twenty-two volunteers from the National Association of the Prevention of Starvation (NAPS), a student-run, nonprofit organization based at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, and comprising mostly students from the college, went to Biloxi, Mississippi, to do what they could to help Hurricane Katrina survivors.
?The site was a replay of the tsunami in Sri Lanka,? said Taurus Montgomery, the NAPS team leader who is a native of Mobile, Alabama, and also was a member of the NAPS team that went to Sri Lanka in January 2005 to aid tsunami survivors. ?The scenes were so familiar?parents lost children and children lost parents. For miles and miles it was [like a] day after a nuclear blast.?
?The loss incurred by this hurricane is simply devastating,? said Ken Rogers, Southern Adventist University chaplain. ?This effort will be an ongoing endeavor because we know that they will need our continuing aid and support.?
Responding to the thousands of church members who are asking what they can do to help, Joe Watts, national coordinator of ACS Disaster Response, said, ?The greatest help that anyone can provide is a financial contribution. By purchasing items nearer to the disaster site, it helps to build the economies of the local areas.?
Some Adventist universities and colleges, including Andrews University, Southern Adventist University, and Columbia Union College, are also responding to the disaster by offering free tuition for one year to Adventist students who were enrolled in a university or college whose operation was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina. For more information, students should contact the school they are interested in attending.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) International has committed funding to Adventist Community Services (ACS) to provide relief aid to those affected by the hurricane. While ADRA operates emergency management programs overseas, it provides funding to local organizations such as Adventist Community Services when disaster strikes in the United States. ADRA is accepting only monetary donations.
Adventist Risk Management
Adventist Risk Management, Inc., (ARM), the risk management service and insurance company of the Adventist Church, has also been working closely with Adventist organizations throughout the Gulf Coast region to provide assistance to those impacted by Katrina.
ARM president Robert Sweezey reports that Gencon Insurance Company of Vermont, the church?s captive insurance company, sent an advance payment of funds to the Gulf States Conference so clean-up and recovery work could begin at Bass Memorial Academy. Contact has also been made with local conference officials in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to help address storm-related needs.
?The thoughts and prayers of the entire Adventist Risk Management staff go out to those who have been impacted by Hurricane Katrina,? says Sweezey. ?Our team of risk management professionals stands ready to provide assistance in helping the church?s organizations and employees cope with the challenges they will face in the weeks and months ahead.?
ARM is also working with Adventist Community Services (ACS) to provide the necessary insurance coverage and information on safety guidance for relief efforts being undertaken throughout the disaster zone.
To donate to disaster relief, to volunteer, or for hurricane help lines, please see sidebar titled ?Katrina Quicklinks.? To read more about the Adventist Church?s response to the hurricane, go to www.adventistreview.org or the NAD Web site at http://www.nadadventist.org/article/articleview/622/1/13/.
*This article was compiled from reports by Jerrica Thurman, NAD Adventist Community Services; Aaron Beaumont and Beverly Stout, Andrews University; Scott Steward, Columbia Union College; Natalia Lopez-Thismon, Southern Adventist University; ADRA Marketing and Development Bureau; Anthony Paul,National Association of the Prevention of Starvation; Arthur Blinci, Adventist Risk Management; and communication staff of the Southern Union, Southwestern Union, Florida, Arkansas-Louisiana, and Gulf States conferences.