NEW ORLEANS (BP) – Aug. 29th could best be wiped from the annual calendar, as New Orleans area pastor Dennis Watson sees it.
“We had Katrina in 2005 on Aug. 29th. We had Gustav in 2008 on Aug. 29th. We had Hurricane Isaac in 2012 on Aug. 29th, and now, we have Hurricane Ida. It’s very traumatic for many of our people.”
Watson, senior pastor of Celebration Church serving eight campuses and 10 congregations in and around New Orleans, evacuated ahead of the storm.
“It’s been really rough on our people. We still have not been able to get in contact with some of our staff members and people who are in the flooded areas, and that’s of great concern to us,” Watson said. “We probably had damage at all of our campuses. One of our campuses did flood completely (La Place). Those are all difficult and challenging things.”
One death has been reported in Louisiana from Hurricane Ida, which came ashore at Port Fourchon late Sunday morning just shy of a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph. It remained a Category 4 storm for hours as it struck community after community in Southern Louisiana, slowing to a Category 1 before it curved into Mississippi causing wind damage and spurring tornado and flood warnings.
Pastor Fred Luter, who rebuilt Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans East after Katrina flooded its former campus, also evacuated ahead of the storm. He’s aware of major wind damage and downed trees in communities where his congregants live, but is not aware of any damage to the current church facilities.
“It’s truly ironic that Hurricane Ida hit on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina,” Luter said. “Now, Aug. 29th will always remind us of two major hurricanes to hit the city.”
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary survived the storm with no flooding or major wind damage, President Jamie Dew tweeted this morning as cleanup efforts began. He advised students not to return to campus until damage is fully assessed.
“Campus cleanup is beginning. No power. Security and facilities teams are safe and assessing damage,” Dew tweeted. “We do not know the extent of the damage or the situation with our buildings.”
Many of the hardest hit communities are off limits to evacuees. Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes are all without power, as well as parts of St. Charles and Terrebonne parishes. A major electrical transmission tower collapsed into the river in the storm, and all eight major electrical transmission lines are down, Entergy said in news reports.
Perhaps hundreds of people were trapped in their homes with floodwaters ranging from one foot to attic-deep, Jordy Bloodsworth, fleet captain of the Louisiana Cajun Navy volunteer rescue group, told CNN Monday morning.
Joe Arnold, associational missions strategist for the Bayou Baptist Association in Gray, said he’s texted with a handful of pastors who remained home during the storm and are therefore stuck inside their homes.
“All of them had a lot of damage, severe damage, and they lost shingles and roofs and things like that,” Arnold said. “No loss of life that we know of.”
Pastors of most of the 32 churches in the coastal association evacuated, Arnold said.
“In one area, it’s going to be a week before they let them back in,” said Arnold, who evacuated ahead of the storm. “In other areas it’s going to be a couple of weeks, but I’ve got clearance to get back in in the morning. … I’m going down there to the foodbank in Houma, and that’ show I got my clearance to get back in.””
Arnold has heard preliminary, sketchy reports that churches in the association are heavily damaged, but he had not been able to confirm reports this morning (Aug. 30).
“The Larose area, Golden Meadow and Grand Isle took a direct hit, and therefore there’s a lot of damage there,” Arnold said.
At Celebration Church, Watson hopes to hold worship online for the next month, until electrical power is restored, and to organize relief efforts to help those in need, he said.
“We are certainly accessing what we need to do to renovate our facilities,” he said, “but we’re also working to develop a relief center where we can provide food, water, cleaning supplies, medical supplies, etc., to the people who need them, and tarps that they need as well.
“After Katrina, we actually served 120,000 families at the church nine months after Katrina. We don’t know if this effort is going to be as big, because we’re not having to mud out homes like we did after Katrina, but it’s going to be extensive and long-lasting.”