US churches assist in Katrina relief efforts
Church World Service (the relief, development and refugee assistance programme of 36 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations in the United States) is among the many Christian organisations involved in emergency aid work following Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
CWS executive director John McCullough joined other religious leaders on Thursday to stress that cooperation among different faith groups is an imperative.
After six days, significant relief has finally begun to reach thousands of people stranded without basic necessities in New Orleans. The death toll in Louisiana remains uncertain, but officials fear the number could stretch well into the thousands.
Yesterday CWS reported that eighty percent of the city is still submerged, with muddy floodwaters as high as 20 feet remaining toxic with fuel, battery acid, rubbish and raw sewage. This is the result of three major breaches in the city's intricate levy system that keeps the below-sea-level area from flooding under normal conditions.
An additional 17,000 troop deployments announced by the White House and the Pentagon today brings the number of regular and National Guard soldiers involved in the relief and rescue effort in the area up to 51,000.
Church World Service is already heavily involved in provision, deployment, reporting and recovery services. Its shipments to date include 5,675 health kits and 6,600 blankets coordinated with Adventist Community Services, a United Methodist church in Victoria, Texas, and the First Baptist Church, West Memphis, Arkansas. Essential medicines and antibiotics for 20,000 persons for up to three months have been donated by Interchurch Medical Assistance.
There are a reported 109,000 persons registered at Red Cross shelters in outlying areas of New Orleans. Some 30,000 displaced persons have been or are being bused from the New Orleans Superdome to the Houston Astrodome, Dallas, Huntsville and San Antonio.
Many of the 20,000 stranded at the downtown New Orleans Convention Centre are now said to be in the process of evacuation.
In Mississippi, the death toll is around 200 and expected to climb as officials comb through ravaged homes and debris in the hard hit Gulfport/Biloxi area. The communities of Bay St Louis and Waveland, home to about 20,000 people, suffered almost complete destruction, officials report. One million people have been without electricity.
Meanwhile, black leaders have condemned the slow response to the disaster. Civil rights campaigner the Rev Jesse Jackson has said that racism is partly to blame. "The reason one could argue that the rescue has been so slow is that some see us as foreigners," he declared.
"If the victims were white, they'd be gone. They'd be sending in an army of helicopters, jets and boats," Yvette Brown, a black refugee from New Orleans, told the BBC.
Contributions to Church World Service for Hurricane Katrina relief and development can be made online. Mennonite Disaster Services, an expert agency of a number of Anabaptist churches, is also receiving donations.