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Ike tops Rita’s toll in southwest La.

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Louisiana was to the northeast — the more destructive side — of Hurricane Ike’s path up the eastern side of Texas.

“It’s worse than [2005’s Hurricane] Rita,” said Gibbie McMillan, disaster relief team leader for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, echoing a common assessment voiced by government officials, law enforcement officers and homeowners in the state.

Across Louisiana, on either side of Interstate 10 and south to the Gulf, 100,000 homes were flooded in the wake of Ike’s storm surge, McMillan reported.

“[T]here was not as much tree damage but more water damage,” McMillan said, “because the hurricane was so large and the winds … kept blowing the water back inland and wouldn’t let it recede. When the tide comes back up it builds on what’s already in, therefore causing more flooding.”

McMillan and Mike Canady, the convention’s missions and ministries director, drove Sunday toward southwest Louisiana to examine the disaster relief needs firsthand after the region’s latest storm.

“Four or five miles south of Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles was as far as we could go,” McMillan said. “The Gulf was there — 15 miles inland of its normal boundaries.”

The difference between Ike and Hurricane Rita in 2005 is the difference between water and wind, said John Yeats, communications director for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

“Wind will knock down trees and rip off shingles,” Yeats said. “Water knocks down everything in its path and immerses it in the salt water, killing freshwater plants, and leaves the residual of mud and muck that needs to be cleaned up.

“One of the greatest needs we’re going to have is for churches to come alongside our pastors in the impacted areas, for financial and emotional support,” Yeats continued. “There’s also going to be a tremendous need -– bigger than with Rita -– for mudout and debris removal volunteers. Needs are being accessed. We’ll know more in 48 hours.”

McMillan added, “It’s at times like these we realize how important it is to be in the Southern Baptist family,” knowing that disaster relief ministry in Louisiana and, now, Texas and elsewhere will be provided to people in need.

After landfall as a Category 2 storm with 110 mph winds early Saturday morning, Ike moved toward the northeast still on its wind-and-rain rampage, killing more than 30 people in eight states and leaving missions without power from Texas to Ohio.

Among reports from Louisiana:

— Johnson Bayou Baptist Church, which set on the highway across from the Gulf and was rebuilt after Rita’s onslaught, is “gone, and no sign of the parsonage whatsoever,” McMillan said. The parsonage was a mobile home set high on stilts. The church’s roof, meanwhile, is on the ground and no walls are standing, according to a Cameron Parish sheriff’s deputy and official flyover video footage.

No word yet on First Baptist Church in Cameron, which like Johnson Bayou Baptist Church received rebuilding assistance from Southern Baptist construction mission teams nationwide after being nearly destroyed by Rita.

— “We just got word from Joe Arnold, director of missions in Bayou Baptist Association, that 15,000 buildings in Terrebonne Parish have been flooded,” McMillan said. “There are 100,000 homes from Vermillion Bay due west to the Texas line that have been flooded.”

Marcel McGee, pastor of Grand Caillou Baptist Church in Dulac scouted that part of the parish Sunday.

“The water from Ike was seven inches higher in our community than the flooding that we experienced from Rita,” McGee wrote in an e-mail. “We will have approximately 1,200 to 1,500 MORE homes flooded than from Rita.

“The recovery effort will be more difficult this time,” the pastor continued. “For Rita, we had the publicity from the damage in New Orleans, but [Hurricane] Gustav is publicized as the storm that missed New Orleans and Ike was the storm that went to Houston. Our community took the brunt of Gustav in Terrebonne Parish and suffered catastrophic flooding from Ike. This will go down as the worst damage that our community has ever experienced.”

McGee, his wife Debby and other Dulac residents who evacuated for Gustav came back just in time to evacuate for Ike.

“Debby and I have stayed in five different homes in the last three weeks,” McGee said. “Our church families are going to be hurt financially. They have been denied financial assistance from FEMA for evacuation expenses. Most of our families, like other families, live paycheck to paycheck. They have been on the run for three weeks, and out of work for three weeks, plus added gas expenses, food expenses and hotel costs. The economic impact on our families is going to be almost as catastrophic as the storms.

“The economic impact on bayou churches is going to be just as bad for months to come,” the pastor continued. “We have not had regular church services for more than three weeks and counting. It will probably be six weeks before we will be able to have any type of ‘normal’ morning worship services. Most of our local men will be trying to get back to work as soon as possible to be able to provide for their families. Wives will be living with relatives until their husbands can come in to work on their homes on weekends and days off. Church attendance is going to be very low for a long time.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.