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Hurricane victims continue task of rebuilding


Rhonda Davis of Alaska becomes emotional as the names of Hurricane Katrina victims are read during a candlelight vigil at St. Columba Church in Oakland, Calif., Aug. 23. Photo by Greg Tarczynski/CNS

Upcoming New Orleans Day to raise money for evacuees

New Orleans Day will take place Saturday, Sept. 9, at Adams Park, 31st and Bedford streets, in Omaha. The event will mark the first anniversary of the arrival of Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Nebraska.

The 6 to 10 p.m. event will feature live music and classic southern dishes from the New Orleans area.

It is hosted by SourceNet and Katrina Survivors, Inc., and is being supported by Catholic Charities. The goal is to generate additional funding and raise awareness for the ongoing, long-term needs of evacuees in the area.

To learn more contact Mary Ann Beckman of Catholic Charities at 829-9296.

By LUKE EGGLESTON
Catholic News Service

GULFPORT, Miss. "“ A year after Hurricane Katrina, residents along Mississippi's coast are reconstructing their lives piece by piece while the region's economic base searches for a footing.

The brick walls of David Morton's summer home are gone now. Atop the sheared foundation are scattered remnants: a tiny brown bottle once used to hold vanilla extract, a blue lighter, several lengths of plastic pipe and a pair of pliers.

Somewhere among the rubble and ruin, Morton's sister, Shirley Henderson, looks for hope. The editor of the Biloxi Diocese's Gulf Pine Catholic and, at times, the face of the diocese in her role as the director of communications, Henderson cannot but project hope.

Like many Southern families, Henderson's extended family lives close by, many of them within a mile of each other in Harrison County. More than 5,500 people in that county along the coast were still without homes by the end of July. Now they are scattered throughout the community and beyond, their homes reduced to piles of bricks.

One of the unexpected outcomes of the hurricane has been a ready-made rationale for merging churches, a nationwide trend compelled by the priest shortage. In the coming months, St. Paul, a parish in Pass Christian, will be joined with nearby Our Lady of Lourdes under the new name, Holy Family.

Day of hurricane remembered

Father Dennis Carver, the pastor of St. Paul, remembers the day after Katrina roared along the Gulf Coast. When the evacuation order was released, Father Carver sought refuge at Annunciation Church in the rural area known as the Kiln. Once the hurricane had passed, he set out to return to his parish. After walking roughly five miles, Father Carver was finally picked up by a local man on a four-wheeler. Upon arriving at his parish, Father Carver was daunted by the sight before him.

'It's a striking memory," he said. 'I was absolutely stunned. One parishioner was just walking around in a circle and the police chief, who is also a parishioner, was there with no shirt and ripped pants."

Father Carver estimates that the parish lost between 75 to 80 percent of its parishioners as a result of post-Katrina migration.

But the priest still smiles easily when greeting new people. His ministry has been inspired by the monolithic task before him, reinvigorating his decimated congregation and merging two parish communities.

'It's great just to be part of what it is," he said. 'Who would have ever known that God would call me to this ... It's been a roller coaster," he said in an interview with a visiting reporter from the Catholic Sun, diocesan newspaper of Syracuse, N.Y.

Across St. Louis Bay in Hancock County, Katrina was even less merciful than in Harrison County. Henderson noted that 90 percent of the homes there were destroyed. Katrina leveled the once thriving St. Clare Church in Waveland, sparing only its grotto.

Two distinct disasters

Henderson pointed out that Katrina yielded two disasters very distinct in character some 60 miles apart. In the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the wind and the force of the water simply swept dwellings and buildings away, whereas in New Orleans Katrina condemned the city to slow destruction through submersion.

Amy Gisleson, a New Orleans native who began working with Catholic Charities of New Orleans after Katrina, has spent her days leading groups of volunteers as they gut homes where walls are permeated with mold and the interiors are full of debris.

Gisleson said the volunteer crews inject a certain amount of energy into the city.

That's what a group of volunteers from St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Liverpool, N.Y., was hoping to do this summer while repairing homes in Mississippi.

John Doughty, youth minister at the New York parish, estimated that his group completed $10,000 worth of repairs during their eight-day sojourn. He also said he has never seen a more enthusiastic yet cohesive group.

Toward the end of the week, Doughty brought the volunteers to the coastline to see the extent of the damage Katrina caused.

The youths were silent and awestruck upon viewing the blasted beachfront.

'If no work got done on the house and the kids just saw that, that'd be enough," said John Rouse, one of the group's chaperones.

The Catholic Voice

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