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Arkansas disaster volunteers housed in Kenner’s city jail

KENNER, La. (BP)–Nearly two dozen Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers from Batesville, Ark., have been living in the Kenner, La., city jail for a week as they provide assistance to a community devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The men and women from the Independence Baptist Association are among the more than 3,000 volunteers now engaged in the Southern Baptist Convention’s ever-expanding Katrina response effort in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

“We’re happy to have them here,” Kenner Police Chief Nick Congmi said. “They rolled into Kenner after dark [Aug. 30], and we told them they could park right here by the police department. We thought this would be a safe place for them to stay.”

Congmi then evicted or transferred all the Kenner City Jail prisoners to provide the volunteers with plenty of living space. The jail has maintained auxiliary power, providing air conditioning, since immediately after the hurricane. The volunteers are sleeping on air mattresses or bunk beds in the cell blocks, which is a new experience for most Baptists.

About 60 percent of Kenner — a western suburb of New Orleans — was immediately flooded by Katrina, with water reaching from 6 to 12 feet. For 18 hours after the hurricane, boats were the only mode of transportation. Now floodwaters have receded and land-line and cellular phone service has been restored. But electricity, water and sanitation services remain out in the area.

“We were desperate for water,” Congmi said. “We were having to cook and clean with bottled water.”

Southern Baptist disaster workers have brought in one 6,000-gallon water tank and plan to bring in a second. Water is now available for cooking and much-needed showers. The workers are also installing spigots into the water tank, so Kenner residents can draw off smaller quantities of water for drinking and personal use, according to Gary Edwards, one of the volunteers.

Edwards said the group’s kitchen unit has been cooking meals since Sept. 1, serving lunch and dinner each day. A typical lunch might include smoked sausage, corn, green beans, fruit cocktail and cookies.

Contributions to offset direct costs of the disaster relief response may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort, and to the North American Mission Board. NAMB contributions may be made online at www.namb.net or mailed to the North American Mission Board, Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Donations also may be made by calling 1-888-571-5895.

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  • Mickey Noah