While much US media attention is focused on Tropical Storm Ernesto (currently pounding the Caribbean) which could hit Florida and Cuba with force later this week, churches and development agencies are assessing the impact of a year of destruction, chaos and despair on the Gulf Coast.
President George W. Bush yesterday used the opportunity of the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to defend his governmentís response and policies ñ which many blame for exacerbating the devastation wreaked by natural disaster on primarily poor and black communities.
Over 1,500 died and many thousands were made homeless in New Orleans and Louisiana. Less than half of the former residents have been able to return 12 months on.
Nevertheless, the cooperation and community spirit evinced in rebuilding and reconstruction on the ground has maintained solidarity and hope among those affected by Katrina
"Much has been accomplished in the past year, but so much more remains to be done," writes Ed Blakeslee of the United Methodist Church in one of his recent weekly messages from the Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference.
"I told my wife that I have probably cried more during the past year than at any other time in my adult life," he said. "Some were tears of sorrow, and some were tears of joy."
The entire Mississippi coastline, from Pearlington to Pecan, suffered devastating damage from the 29 August 2005 hurricane. One year later, after thousands of volunteer hours, years of restoration work remain.
A tour of churches along the coastline is mixed with bright rays of hope and sad scenes of despair, writes Kathy L. Gilbert, of UMNS.
One of the bright spots, she says, is in Pearlington, where a shiny white church with a bright green roof almost sits where it did before the hurricane.
The only thing left of Clermont Harbor United Methodist Church after Katrina was the concrete front steps. Meshach's Carpenter, a United Methodist group of volunteers from Goldston, N.C, rebuilt the church "from the brick foundation to the steeple" in eight days, comments relief coordinator the Rev Chris Cumbest.
The first church service was held in the new building 18 June 2006. "I attended worship with them in February, and there were 10 people present," says Cumbest. "On June 18 there were around 50 who were not a part of Meshach's Carpenters who attended, many from the Clermont Harbour community."
A few miles from Clermont Harbour, Barry Smith has a team of United Methodist volunteers building a shed in his backyard. He and his pregnant wife and young son are living in a trailer and he says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has told him he can only have it for seven more months. The shed will hold building material Smith has salvaged from other building sites.
Right after the hurricane most people were shocked, and then they got really busy cleaning and trying to assess the damage, the Rev Terry Hilliard says. Months dragged by while people waited for insurance settlements and for government officials to decide how the houses should be rebuilt; that's when it got really hard, she explains.
"I think people are not as energized as they were when there was a lot of physical work to do," she says. "People are tired; they are emotionally, physically and mentally worn out." But Hilliard says amazing stories have also come out of all the despair.
Churches across the region and the US are continuing to contribute to relief efforts. And civil rights campaigners say that it is now harder for the federal government to deny the cost of social division as well as weather-borne disaster on vulnerable communities.
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