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NOBTS moves offices to Ga.; Kelley says school will re-open


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Like many Southern Baptists, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley wants to know the condition of his campus.

But one day after a levee broke and flooded most of the city, Kelley is still trying to get word as to the extent of damage at the Southern Baptist seminary. The campus was evacuated over the weekend, just before Hurricane Katrina hit. Kelley spoke with Baptist Press Wednesday from a hotel room in Birmingham, Ala.

“[W]e do not know … the extent of the flooding that may have happened after the levee broke. We just have no idea,” Kelley told BP. “[But] we are grateful that our seminary is located on one of the higher parts of New Orleans. Our campus is mostly above sea level — unlike much of the city.”

Prior to the levee breaking, Kelley said the damage left by Katrina was “significant, but not catastrophic by any means.” For example, as of late Monday, campus buildings had roof damage, the seminary chapel had been heavily damaged, an older campus apartment building was in 3 feet of water and numerous trees had been lost, having been weakened by termites over the years. But then the levee broke. Water rose in the city Tuesday and much of Wednesday morning. Officials said Wednesday afternoon that water was no longer rising, although they had yet to fix the levee. One official said it would take a “minimum of 30 days” to drain the city. After that, work would begin to clear debris, which he said would take much longer.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Tuesday she wants the city to be evacuated. It could be weeks or months before residents of much of New Orleans are able to return. It is estimated that 80 percent of the city is flooded.

The seminary has set up temporary offices at its North Georgia Extension Center in Decatur, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. Kelley and seminary officials are scheduled to meet Thursday “to assess where we are and where we’re going.” Asked if the extension center could possibly be the site for fall classes, Kelley said, “We meet tomorrow to talk about that.” Kelley did say that the seminary will have a “major” announcement on Friday.

“New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is going to re-open, no question,” Kelley said.

Kelley said that as far as he knows, all students and faculty members are alive and safe. A “small skeleton crew” of approximately 18 people that remained on campus during the storm was to be evacuated Wednesday by the Coast Guard, Kelley said.

“All of our people, to the best of our knowledge, are safe,” he said.

Kelley’s mother and father, New Orleans residents, are safe and in Fort Worth, Texas, with their daughter, Dorothy Patterson, Kelley said.

Southern Baptists, Kelley said, need to “pray that the conditions in the city will stabilize.”

“We cannot start even planning our process of cleaning up and whatever rebuilding we need to do until the situation stabilizes,” he said. “We need to pray that God will show them a way to stop that flooding and get the water level stabilized.”

Kelley also requested prayer for the seminary.

“Pray for the circumstances of our seminary family,” he said. “They’re all over the southeastern United States. Virtually all of us on campus now are homeless. My wife and I have what we can put in our car in an hour, and that’s it. We’re all homeless.” Kelley’s home is located on the campus.

Updates about the seminary’s condition and its plans for fall classes will be posted at www.sbc.net and on the seminary’s website, www.nobts.edu. The seminary’s website has experienced extremely high traffic and has been inaccessible much of the time.

The seminary has set up a seminary hurricane relief fund with the Southern Baptist Foundation. Donations, Kelley said, will be used for two purposes: to assist seminary families affected by the storm and to help in cleaning up and repairing the seminary facilities. Donations can be designated for either category. Undesignated funds will assist in both efforts. Donations can be mailed to: New Orleans Seminary Hurricane Relief Fund, Southern Baptist Foundation, 901 Commerce St., Suite 600, Nashville, TN 37203.
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— With reporting by Brent Thompson.

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  • Michael Foust