NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The horrendous destruction left by Hurricane Katrina worsened Aug. 31 as floodwaters continued to rise in New Orleans, prompting Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco to order a complete evacuation of the city and to ask for a statewide day of prayer.
“As we face the devastation wrought by Katrina, as we search for those in need, as we comfort those in pain and as we begin the long task of rebuilding, we turn to God for strength, hope and comfort,” Blanco said in a statement.
“I am asking that all of Louisiana take some time Wednesday to pray,” she added. “Pray for the victims and the rescuers. Please pray that God give us all the physical and spiritual strength to work through this crisis and rebuild.
“Please pray for patience for those anxiously waiting to hear from family members or to get word about their homes. Pray for the safety of our hard-working rescuers and those they are bringing to safety.
“I know, by praying together on Wednesday, that we can pull together and draw strength we need — strength that only God can give us. In my prayers, I will also thank God for the strong and resilient people of this state and how they are working to meet this challenge,” Blanco said.
In Mississippi, Gulfshore Baptist Assembly was leveled by Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge, and two visible churches on the coast –- First Baptist of Gulfport and First Baptist of Long Beach -– have been destroyed.
The Baptist conference center had been blown away by Hurricane Camille in 1969 and rebuilt to withstand a major hurricane, but to no avail when it came to Katrina.
All that remains of First Baptist in Gulfport is its steeple and its steel frame.
In Metairie, La., Dennis Watson, pastor of Celebration Church, said his church was overtaken by water just like many others in the New Orleans area. But he said the 2,500-member congregation will recover and God will use this opportunity to bring New Orleans closer together.
“To turn the tide and recover will take something supernatural,” Watson told the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. “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.
“Oftentimes tragedy brings people together,” he added. “Christians in unaffected areas of the state and nation have already shown their love and support for us by offering to help in so many ways.”
East Bayou Baptist Church in Lafayette already has offered to let Celebration Church set up temporary offices in their facility.
The members of Marksville (La.) Baptist Church opened their building to more than 80 evacuees and transformed the baptistery into a makeshift shower. They placed Styrofoam blocks in front of the baptistery windows to ensure more privacy, pastor Dennis Hackler told the Baptist Message.
“This was kind of an ingenious idea,” Hackler said. “We may patent it. The idea wasn’t mine but from my people, which made me so proud.”
Further south, about 450 evacuees found refuge at Dry Creek (La.) Baptist Camp. The camp was providing free meals, medical care and recreation for evacuees, and area churches have contributed food and supplies. The camp staff said the facility will remain open as long as needed, though they are almost at capacity.
“Basically, we are running camp,” Curt Iles, Dry Creek’s camp director, told the Baptist Message. “Jesus told us that if you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it unto Me. Some of these people may have lost everything and they need to be ministered to.”
At press time, 21 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units had been activated to minister in Louisiana.
New Orleans residents thought they had been spared the fiercest wrath of Katrina when the storm moved slightly eastward of the city on Monday, but when two crucial levees broke Tuesday, a steady flow of water from Lake Pontchartrain began filling the bowl-like city. Mayor Ray Nagin estimated at least 80 percent of New Orleans was under water that was 20 feet deep in some places, according to MSNBC.com.
As efforts to distribute basic supplies to folks holed up in shelters in New Orleans grew more difficult with rising waters, Blanco ordered everyone in the city to leave within two days — a task that meant moving nearly 20,000 people from the Superdome sports arena to Houston’s Astrodome. Reports of overflowing toilets, mounting trash and flaring tempers compounded by the 90-degree temperatures inside the Superdome contributed to the need to move people elsewhere.
Officials said it was too early to begin tallying a death toll in New Orleans because the focus was still on rescuing the hundreds trapped on rooftops amid the rising waters. Rescuers in some areas were forced to push aside floating bodies or mark houses with an “X” to indicate bodies were inside in need of recovery at a later date, according to FoxNews.com.
Blanco estimated about 1 million residents in Louisiana were left homeless by Katrina, and the Red Cross reported about 40,000 people were seeking refuge in 200 shelters across the area. Four Navy ships were quickly making their way toward the Gulf Coast with drinking water and other supplies for those in need, MSNBC.com reported, and officials estimated it could take up to a month to clear the water out of New Orleans.
In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour said 90 percent of the structures along the state’s coastline were obliterated by a 30-foot storm surge, resembling the aftermath of a nuclear bomb.
“I can only imagine that this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago,” Barbour said after touring the damage by air Tuesday, according to FoxNews.com.
Streets and homes were flooded as far as six miles inland from the beach near Biloxi and Gulfport, and buildings that survived record-setting Hurricane Camille in 1969 were reduced to rubble by Katrina.
Utility companies estimated 2.3 million customers — or nearly 5 million people — were without electricity in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, MSNBC.com reported, and restoration could take weeks.
Looting was becoming another major problem in the hurricane’s aftermath as people in New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport and other areas were seen breaking windows and stealing goods from homes, shops and large stores. An NBC News crew even videotaped police officers in New Orleans joining scores of others in looting a Wal-Mart store.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is considering using cruise ships, tent cities, mobile home parks and boats to house those displaced by the hurricane, and President Bush plans to visit the region later this week.
Compiled by Erin Curry with additional reporting by Brian Blackwell of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and William Perkins of The Baptist Record, newsjournal of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.