Lutheran Disaster Response

Our response to disasters in the U.S. and around the world; look for sections of this blog related to specific disaster locations. Comments are welcomed and moderated.

Hurricane Isaac: When the Cameras Move On

Posted on April 29, 2013 by Pastor Michael Stadie

August 29, 2005 is a day that is seared into the memory of the people in the New Orleans area. That was the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Exactly seven years later, on August 29, 2012, Hurricane Isaac impacted the same area. Isaac was not as powerful as Katrina, and the primary area of damage was a bit different from that of Katrina’s. But as I often say, “It may not be a huge disaster, but to the people impacted, it was a life changing event.”

I visited the areas impacted by Isaac about a month later. Plans were being made to help the families recover from the storm. The Monday after my visit, Super Storm Sandy hit the East Coast (October 29). Since then, the majority of the disaster community’s attention has been on our Sandy response. This past week, I returned to New Orleans to check on the state of the recovery after Isaac. You see, we at Lutheran Disaster Response are concerned about all those impacted by disasters; we are committed to helping communities recover even when they are not in the media’s attention.

Through our affiliate, Lutheran Social Services of the South (LSSS), we are working to provide disaster case management in two of the twenty-six Parishes receiving these services, namely St. Tammany and Washington. Washington Parish has some 27% of the households living below the federal poverty level and nearly 24% of the population has a disability. Due to all of the economic and storm related stress, St. Tammany has recently experienced a rash of suicides. So while there are other areas of need in the state, by focusing on these two Parishes, LSSS will be making a huge impact on the lives of those affected by Isaac.

Our local Program Director is Jessica Vermilyea. Jessica, along with Mark Minick from LSSS, has many years of experience working in the Louisiana area following Katrina. They are uniquely positioned to be able to navigate the complex nature of this recovery since many of the people impacted by Katrina were also impacted by Isaac.

Some of the unique challenges to this recovery work include the fact that homeowners are facing high deductibles, from 3 to 5% of the cost of their homes. Many of the people did not receive any assistance from FEMA because either they were not able to keep up their flood insurance because of cost, they did not know they had to do so, or because insurance companies are asking for Katrina repair verification before paying claims. This verification can be a difficult thing to come up with—how many of us can find all of our home repair receipts from 6 years ago?

Despite these challenges, Mark and Jessica are hopeful they will be able to help dozens of people with their recovery, help people return to their homes, help people find the new normal for their lives. While the country has shifted its attention to many other disasters, we at Lutheran Disaster Response US will not forget the people impacted by Hurricane Isaac—please join us in remembering these folks in our thoughts and prayers.

Camp Victor in Metamorphosis

Posted on March 6, 2013 by Joseph Chu

Camp Victor, Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Camp Victor, Ocean Springs, Mississippi

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under the sun. Ecclesiastes 3:1

I had the chance to visit Camp Victor at Ocean Springs, Mississippi, twice in the last three months and was deeply moved by its leaders and the ministry each time.  Camp Victor in its current location was started by Christus Victor Lutheran Church in 2006 as the continuation of its disaster recovery ministry for communities affected by Hurricane Katrina and Rita.  Not only has it been a sizable hospitality center, housing volunteers engaged in disaster recovery work, it has also been a service center providing case management and construction management for those deeply affected by the disasters. Here are some facts about Camp Victor: 

  • It is housed in a county-owned 50,000 square foot box-shape building located in the middle of the tourist district of Ocean Springs, MS. It formerly belonged to the Swinger Garment Factory.
  • It has dormitories and beddings for up to 250 volunteers.
  • Through the years, it has received 50,000 volunteers from 50 states and 20 countries.
  • Together, volunteers have provided 1 million service hours on more than 2,000 homes, translating into $19.5 million worth of labor.

Hurricane Katrina: 7-Year Anniversary – Lessons Learned

Posted on August 29, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Today marks the 7-year anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast. This landmark disaster has changed much about the way we repond to disaster, for Lutheran Disaster Response, our partners and our country’s government. Many of those lessons were hard-learned. Gaps in the system were learned and addressed in the midst of responding. Yet, from these trials there have been positive results.

As we take time today to pause and think back to the situation caused by Katrina in 2005 it seems appropriate to name some of the lessons learned. This is especially true as we are experiencing the landfall of Hurricane Isaac exactly 7 years later in this same region. (see photos at end of post)

Disaster Preparedness
One of the major lessons learned from Katrina was about what it meant to truly prepare for an incoming disaster. As we have been tracking the approach of Isaac (being on conference calls, following website postings, etc) it is clear that this region has been here before. People in charge are aware of what the situation may entail. The right organizations are talking to each other. Information is being shared in a timely and efficient manner.

And beyond this there are more tangible things like the story that Lutheran Disaster Response Director, Pastor Michael Stadie, shared with me. He was describing a news report from the French Quarter in New Orleans where the reporter was commenting on how much less debris there was blowing around and causing damage compared to Katrina. This lack of debris is in part due to better preparedness measures.

We Work Better Together
During Katrina a lot of disaster response agencies were all trying to do the same thing, meeting all of the needs they saw before them. This led to some areas getting double service while others were potentially missed. We have learned that working together through strong communications between our partners within the disaster resposne community and government agencies leads to a better, more effective, more efficient response. In the end of the day this means that more people will gain better services when they need them.

The Effects Extend Beyond the News Coverage
During Katrina the city of New Orleans captivated our attention as we saw with probably disbelief the damage nature can wreak, as well as the human-cause disasters that can arise when the response is not effective or timely. Yet we learned that both in time and geographic scope the effects of a disaster extend beyond what is covered by the media. During Katrina the areas around the Gulf Coast, from eastern Texas to Mobile, AL to Pensecola, FL felt the affects and were in need of response. Also, even seven years later there is still work that has just recently begun winding down in response to Katrina.

As we await the assessment of Isaac, we know that where we respond will be over a larger area than what is covered in the national media and will extend far beyond the time that the cameras are there. This is also a place where Lutheran Disaster Resposne has found a niche as we work to coordinate volunteers many months and years after a disaster. We also work through our affiliate network to help communities setup and manage their Long Term Recovery Committees that help address unmet needs as they arise.

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As we look into the future and the disaster it will inevitably bring, let us pause to give rememberance to Hurricane Katrina, the damage it caused and the hard lessons it taught us. May God grant us wisdom to learn from them and the patience and strength needed to put them into practice.

Katrina - August 29, 2005

Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. Click for larger image.

Issac - August 29, 2012

Hurricane Issac on August 29, 2012. Click for larger image.

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.

Florida & Caribbean: Tropical Storm Isaac

Posted on August 25, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Path of Tropical Storm Isaac. Click to see full image.

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Yesterday afternoon Tropical Storm Isaac swept through Haiti’s southern peninsula, bringing with it heavy rains (over a foot in some areas) and hundred-plus mile per hour winds. It wreaked havoc on the nation as it still works to recover from the massive earthquake of 2010. The storm is also threatening to bring the same level of rain and wind to Cuba and southern Florida.

ELCA Disaster Response has been in contact with our companions in Haiti as they assess the situation and possible needs and responses. In Florida we have also been in contact with our Lutheran Disaster Response affiliates as they work to prepare for potential damages.

Please keep all those affected by this new tropical storm in prayer as they work to perpare and respond. As we learn more about the situation and possible responses we will keep you informed.

If you would like to support the response to these disasters, or those like them, you can donate to either Haiti Relief or U.S. Hurricanes. These gifts help us to respond immediately and effectively when disasters strike domestically and internationally.

Clay, AL: Field Report

Posted on July 26, 2012 by Pastor Michael Stadie

Property still covered in debris. Credit: LDR

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

My name is Pastor Michael Stadie and I am the Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response. The second week of July, I had the privilege to spend some time with Ron Turney and Heather Turney from Lutheran Ministries of Alabama (LMA). LMA is working with those impacted by tornadoes in April 2011 as well as January 2012.

The city of Clay and LMA have developed a great working relationship in helping the people in that community recover from the January storm. LMA has a disaster case manager that is able to spend one day a week in a space provided by the city. This location will help those impacted by the storms to have easier access to case management services, which in turn, will help speed their recovery.

After touring the area, it is clear that many people in Clay are just now beginning their road to recovery. As the pictures in this post indicate, some homeowners, primarily due to issues with their insurance companies, have not been able to clean up their property. Sadly, some families have had to abandon their homes. These situations reflect the scope and importance of the work being done here by LMA.

Tornado-damaged home still in need of repairs. Credit: LDR

During my time there I had the opportunity to visit with Pastor Larry Richardson from Faith Lutheran in Clay, which has agreed to host volunteers working in the community. In coordination with LMA, the congregation has made a strong commitment to provide hospitality for those helping to clean up and rebuild Clay.

I was able to visit with Pastor Sandy Niiler, interim pastor at Christ Lutheran in Cullman, a congregation that was destroyed in the April 2011 tornado. Pastor Sandy gave me an update on the rebuilding process; groundbreaking was held about a week before I was there. As the congregation is rebuilding, they are also rethinking their role in the community and planning ways to become more active participants in their shared future. This is one of the amazing ways in the wake of tragedy that God brings hope, as a congregation severely impacted by a disaster finds a new sense of mission to its community.

Home still in need of repairs. Credit: LDR

My trip also involved visiting the Camp Noah at Pratt City area of Birmingham. Camp Noah is a program of Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota which works with children affected by disaster Volunteers from the local community and Maryland were having a great time working with 75 children attending the camp. Although the weather was very hot, you could feel the enthusiasm and excitement of the children as soon as you walked in the door of the community center. Little did they know that just a day or so later, First Lady Michelle Obama would be visiting; something that raised the excitement level through the roof. While I was not able to present for Mrs. Obama’s visit, I was so very happy that both LMA and Camp Noah were able to be in the national spotlight for the great work they have been doing helping the people of Alabama recover. (Please see a previous post about Mrs. Obama’s visit to the Camp Noah.)

After my time in Alabama, I attended the National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. Thank you to all who stopped to visit and sign up for the T-shirt raffle. It was great to hear that so many people from around the country know of the work of Lutheran Disaster Response.

As I continue my visits to other parts of the country that have been impacted by disasters, I will post additional updates.

Birmingham, AL: Camp Noah’s Special Visitor

Posted on July 19, 2012 by Matthew Ley

First Lady Michelle Obama with Heather Turney of Lutheran Ministries of Alabama at Camp Noah in Pratt City. Credit: LMA/Ron Turney

The participants at Camp Noah in Pratt City, an area of Birmingham, AL, had quite a surprise yesterday when First Lady Michelle Obama came to visit. The camp is a ministry begun by Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota in 1997 to help children affected by disasters process the experience. It was being hosted by Lutheran Ministries of Alabama in Pratt City as part of their response to the devastating tornado in April 2011.

The First Lady was able to greet many of the children presonally and even took home some of the healthy treats they were putting together as part of their program. It was a great experience for those present and a nice affirmation of the good work of Camp Noah. A wonderful example of how in times of disaster our church takes seriously the role of being there for the long haul, even after the news cameras have left. And sometimes when they come back.

To learn more about the good work being done see: Camp Noah | Lutheran Ministries of Alabama

You can also learn more about the even from local news coverage (short ads before most videos):

  • Special visitor in Pratt City: Series of videos. The first one has a statement from Nancy Beers, Director of Camp Noah, and the second one has a good overview of the program.
  • First Lady Obama visits Birmingham: Really like the statement of the First Lady at the end of the video. It’s great our church, through our disaster response work, can be a part of what she’s talking about.

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.

Clay, AL: Lutheran Ministries of Alabama Taking on Long Term Recovery

Posted on July 17, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Lutheran Ministries of Alabama, the local Lutheran Disaster Response affiliate in Alabama, has partnered with the city of Clay to offer long-term recovery for victims of the January 2012 tornado that affected 30% of residence. This is a great example of both how disaster response is always a local response and how our role may not be as first responders but that Lutheran Disaster Response is there for the long-haul.

To learn more check out:

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Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.

U.S. Fires & Floods

Posted on June 29, 2012 by Matthew Ley

The last week and a half have been a busy time for disaster response around the U.S. As wildfires continue to rage throughout Colorado, Montana and surrounding states, there have also been record breaking rainfall in Northeast Minnesota that led to flash flooding. Florida Tropical Storm Debbie drenched much of the state leading to rivers cresting past flood levels. Below is an overview of these disasters and how our church is responding.

Colorado Wildfires

Currently four separate wildfires have consumed over 20,000 acres destroying 600 structures and threatening thousands more. The fire has led to one death and a handful of injuries. It is hoped that all fires will be completely contained by the middle of July. The fires have also led to the evacuation of Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp, one ELCA pastor losing his home and one ELCA congregation having 95 percent of its members evacuated.

Our local partner, Lutheran Family Services of Colorado has activated its disaster response program and is assessing the situation. Much of this work involves connecting with local ELCA congregations and church bodies, like the ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod, to determine the need and appropriate response. We are helping to evacuate several foster homes and are working with United Way to find alternative housing. Funds have also been disbursed to help Sky Ranch as they continue to host their outdoor ministry at a Presbyterian Camp. To learn more about the situation at Sky Ranch see the previous post Ministry Amidst the Flames.

Montana Wildfires

Wildfires are also threatening parts of the ELCA Montana Synod. The Rev. Amanda Liggett of Zion Lutheran Church in Roundup, Mont. said, “We’re doing alright. Lots of people have lost a great deal in the last 24 hours, but no human lives as far as I know.”

We are working with local partners to assist in the evacuation of two assisted living centers, one in Ashland, Mont. and one on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. In conjunction with St. John’s Lutheran Ministries and Lutheran Social Services of Montana, we are helping to provide food, toiletries and medical supplies.

Northeast Minnesota Flash Flooding

Last week Duluth experienced its wettest two days on record receiving over seven inches of rain in 48 hours. The affect was massive flash flooding that destroyed roads and homes, even picking up and moving vehicles. The city of Moose Lake was unreachable for five days because of high waters. In the early assessment much of the damage seems to be infrastructure, yet many basements are flooded and one member of the Northeast Minnesota staff lost their home. Hope Lutheran, an ELCA congregation in Moose Lake, was flooded but did not sustain any major damage.

Our local partner, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, is working to assess the situation and future needs. They are working through the United Way to coordinate volunteers and focusing on setting up and managing a long term recovery committee. This committee will help oversee the recovery until it is finished (a process of many months and possibly years). They are also working with ELCA congregation Hope Lutheran to host Camp Noah starting August 20th.

Tropical Storm Debbie Hits Florida

Tropical Storm Debbie brought heavy rains over many days that led to sporadic flooding and many rivers cresting above flood stage. Assessment is still on going as some rivers have still not yet crested. The state is reporting four fatalities associated with the flooding. There have been no reports of affected ELCA congregations or members.

Lutheran Services of Florida, our affiliate in the state, is continuing to stay connected with ELCA churches and church bodies in the area as they assess the situation. They have been  putting together flood buckets for distribution in more affected areas, like Hudson.

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While the hard work of first responders and local agencies continues please keep these people in your thoughts and prayers. Also pray for our local ELCA congregations, church bodies and affiliates as they continue their work of being church even in the midst of disaster. May God give them strength, patience and wisdom.

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond at home and globally in times of need. Donate now.

Clay, AL: St. Olaf Students Help in Tornado Debris Clean Up

Posted on March 29, 2012 by Matthew Ley

During their spring break 88 students from the ELCA college of St. Olaf, located in Northfield, MN (also home to Malt-O-Meal factory), spent time in Clay, AL to help with clean up efforts following a January 23 tornado which ripped through the area. It reminded me of an old Lutheran Disaster Response ad that showed a woman cleaning a floor with the words: “Sexy? No. Faithful? Yes.” It’s great to see that a part of a full education at an ELCA college is activities like this that tie students into the larger work of the church and their lives in the world.

To learn more:

Midwest Tornadoes: Bulletin Insert

Posted on March 8, 2012 by Matthew Ley

At least 64 tornadoes touched down in 14 states last week leading to over 50 deaths, thousands of destroyed homes and displaced peoples. To help lift up the response we have created a bulletin insert for your use. Download it here.

You can also learn more at the ELCA Disaster Response page U.S. Severe Spring Storms and support the effort through donations page.

If you are interested in volunteering, please visit the Lutheran Disaster Response volunteer page.