News Articles

Louisianans prepare as Gustav churns

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–During this week’s Democratic National Convention, national media were breaking away to report on the threat of Tropical Storm Gustav becoming a devastating hurricane. The media reports have New Orleans-area residents taking note.

“Regardless of the projections, we want everyone to be prepared for the possibility of Gustav coming towards the New Orleans area,” Dennis Watson, pastor of Celebration Church in Metairie, in a hurricane advisory e-mail to his congregation Aug. 27.

“As always, we are first trusting in the Lord for His protection and provision,” Watson wrote. “At the same time, as His Word instructs us to do, we are planning for any difficulties that may arise from Hurricane Gustav coming towards our city and region.”

Celebration Church, a Southern Baptist multi-campus congregation, has arranged for evacuation housing at five churches in central and south-central Louisiana.

“These shelters are free and available to you and your family and friends for a period of 3-4 days (unless they should fill up) if there is need for a hurricane evacuation from the New Orleans area,” Watson wrote. “If we are simply facing tropical storm winds, we will have housing at our Airline campus available for mobile home residents and St. Bernard Parish residents.”

Disaster relief units are on alert across Louisiana, reported Gibbie McMillan, men’s ministries and disaster relief strategist for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

“Only God knows where it will really hit and what the damage will be,” McMillan wrote in an e-mail to Louisiana disaster relief volunteers Aug. 27.

“However, we know from the past that it is in our interest to be prepared. We have our DR force ready and in place to respond as soon as needed.”

Gustav’s path, McMillan wrote, “depends on the high and low pressure systems and the jet stream as to whether it will travel east or west. … Thanks for being ready and don’t forget to pray for grace and mercy.”

A projected directional “cone” for two days showed New Orleans at the center of the path of what was expected to grow into a level 3 storm. Apparently unnoticed by the media -– though not by National Hurricane Center — the cone’s direction was shifting to the west of New Orleans by Thursday.

That would place it on a track toward the area devastated by Hurricane Rita just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hearts there were fluttering too.

“To all of our friends around the country: You have all worked so hard for Cameron and First Baptist Church,” e-mailed First Baptist member Cyndi Sellers in Cameron. “We love you and thank you for all you have done. If you could do just one more thing — please pray that we are not destroyed again. The work here is not even finished, and I doubt if Cameron could recover from another blow like Rita. Please pray for a weakening of Hurricane Gustav and a track that brings minimal damage to wherever it hits.

“Please pray for all of us as we prepare to evacuate, and for all who must eventually do so,” Sellers continued. “Evacuation can be difficult, unpleasant, and even dangerous, as Rita showed.”

Just before Gustav became news, Watson at Celebration Church e-mailed words of comfort to his congregation, which three years later still is dealing with Katrina.

“Although we still grieve three years following Katrina for those who have experienced so much loss and sorrow, and although we still pray for the recovery and rebuilding or our city and region, we also rejoice,” Watson wrote. “We rejoice because we have discovered that: 1) God is greater than all of our problems, 2) the Lord does care for His people and for others, and 3) God can redeem every tragedy and utilize it for peoples’ good and for His glory.”

People in New Orleans and across southern Louisiana echo the closing words in Watson’s hurricane preparedness e-mail:

“Our first prayer is that Hurricane Gustav will either dissipate in the Gulf of Mexico, or make landfall at some relatively uninhabited spot along the Gulf Coast so that there is no loss of life. Our second prayer is for you, your family members and your friends to be completely safe, which is why we planned for such an emergency earlier in the year.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.