By Marilyn Stewart, Regional Reporter
Here are a compilation of stories from the people who lived through those dark days during and after Hurricane Katrina.
Port Sulphur Baptist Church
Water still covered the roads when Lynn Rodrigue went in to see what was left of Port Sulphur, his church, and his home two weeks after the storm. The eye of Hurricane Katrina had passed directly over Buras and nearby Port Sulphur.
“It looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off in lower Plaquemines,” Rodrigue said.
Wind took the sides and the roofs of the church and the fellowship hall. Twenty-five feet of water took the rest.
“There was nothing salvageable,” Rodrigue said. “It practically washed everything away.”
With the help of Southern Baptists, the church rebuilt. Though 70% of the membership did not return, Port Sulphur Baptist Church today averages 45 each Sunday.
BOBBY WELCH, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention
In the early days after Katrina, Bobby Welch stood in a pastor’s office in the New Orleans area with a pastor whose eyes were fixed on the mud-caked debris outside his window. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt this hopeless before in my life,” the pastor said.
But in a moment, everything changed. Weaving their way through the debris onto church property were some friends and with them, an SBC disaster relief team. With a quivering lip, the pastor said, “You know what, Bro. Bobby? I know God is answering our prayers and that everything will be all right.”
For Welch, the child’s rag doll he discovered in the debris as he crisscrossed the New Orleans area in Hurricane Katrina’s wake is symbolic of the lessons of the storm.
“The doll became an Instagram to me, speaking to me volumes about unbelievable desperation and God’s overpowering grace that overcomes it,” Welch said.
Pressed into the doll’s stringy hair, among the bits of trash pressed into its innocent form, is a page from a Bible. For Welch, it was a reminder of the thousands of real people ravaged by the storm.
“If you look closely at this little rag doll, you see she never lost her smile,” Welch said. “That is precisely what I saw: the will to survive, seize the moment, reconnect and recharge hell and the devil. No matter where you turned or how bad it got, Southern Baptists in particular and other Christians generally used their moment to show kindness, love, care, and share the Gospel.”
PHILIP ROBERTSON, pastor of Philadelphia Baptist Church and former LBC president
Philip Robertson, LBC president when Hurricane Katrina came to call, felt deeply for pastors and church staff members displaced by the storm. Once relief efforts were underway, Robertson turned his attention to helping the scores of pastors whose churches were shut down.
“We knew it was going to be a prolonged time that there would be no tithes, there would be no offerings, and no income. We were looking at a lot of pastors who were faced with the reality of ‘I’m not going to have a paycheck,’” Robertson said. “I felt a burden as LBC president that we needed to put together a fund to help meet these pastors’ needs.”
A fund was created and Robertson traveled, speaking to raise awareness. The day Robertson returned to his alma mater, Liberty University, students took up an offering totaling more than $10,000.
DENNIS COLE, associate pastor of Gentilly Baptist Church
Dennis Cole, Gentilly Baptist Church associate pastor, searched Google Earth after the storm looking for photos of the church and the conditioner units they had installed the year before. Elevated on stands, the units would tell him something about the depth of the water.
The photos told the stark truth. The units were not visible.
Cole came into the city earlier than most with his son-in-law whose medical pass gave them entrance. Though police and military Humvees buzzed around them, emergency workers were too busy to stop and check their credentials again.
The quiet that enveloped everything struck Cole.
“It was an eerie feeling. Very, very eerie,” Cole said. “Not even a bug was around.”
Heather Platt, wife of David Platt
David and Heather Platt entered the parsonage of Edgewater Baptist Church where they lived weeks after the storm. Water had reached the ceiling.
“To see all of our worldly possessions covered with mud, muck and mold, was overwhelming. The smell was even worse. I couldn’t even think clearly…I just wanted to sit on the dirty floor and cry,” Heather Platt said.
But even in the midst of heartache, there was evidence of God’s faithfulness.
“The Lord preserved a small few treasured possessions that had sentimental family value,” Heather said. “I have no idea how the handmade ceramic pieces that my deceased grandmother crafted made it through the devastation of the flood, but I look at each one with joy, thanking the Lord for small blessings, even in the chaos of our upside down lives.”
ALLAN CAMPBELL – COAST GUARD,
Weeks before the storm, Coast Guard aviation maintenance technician 3rd class Allan Campbell was transferred to northern California. When the levees broke, Campbell was called back.
“Literally upon landing, I found myself thrown into the flight schedule to relieve those who had flown their limit of flight hours in the day. Within a few minutes survivors were spotted on virtually every rooftop,” Campbell said. “You couldn’t pick up more than 3 to 5 survivors before you had to drop them off due to the space constraints of the helicopter. On the first flight we picked up over 20 people.”
The aircrews of the U.S. Coast Guard rescued upwards of 20,000 stranded civilians. Campbell’s crew flew over Edgewater Baptist Church searching for survivors.
“I was crushed to see the church…At the time I didn’t know whether or not it would all be rebuilt. I just had no idea.”
JACKIE JAMES, director of ops for Arkansas Baptist Builders
From his base in Arkansas, Jackie James carried a Red Cross phone, an Arkansas Baptist Convention phone and a personal phone as he managed the rotation of the Arkansas Disaster Relief units in the days after the storm.
“Everything we had in Arkansas was down there. Every DR unit we had was deployed,” James said.
James and his wife Linda arrived in New Orleans on Oct. 27 where Jackie worked as a “blue hat” on one of the shower units stationed on the parking lot of First Kenner. Yellow ribbon cordoned off the two block area around the church. At night, they slept under armed guards.
James stumbled onto a group of workers at City Park who had run out of food, money, and gas. They told James they were starving.
“I just happened to know where the biggest food unit in the nation was sitting,” James said. The feeding unit at the church was serving 32,000 meals a day.
James returned to the park and fed 400 men.