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Recovery After Disaster: Lessons From Katrina For Today

It's been 11 years since Hurricane Katrina. And there is still much we can learn from that disaster.

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Eleven years ago on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ashore between Louisiana and Mississippi. It was one of the most destructive natural disasters in United States history. Katrina caused the deaths of almost 1,500 Louisiana residents. Approximately 80% of the city was flooded. The population of New Orleans fell from 455,188 before Katrina (July 2005) to 208,548 one year later (July 2006). While Katrina’s destruction happened years ago, it has important lessons for us today.

As a professor at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, I began a study of the impact of Katrina on all of the 1,504 worship centers (all religions) in five parishes (counties) around New Orleans.

After four years, over 25% of the worship centers in Orleans Parish were not yet operational. Today, most of the worship centers have not returned to their pre-Katrina numbers.

Over 11 years, my research team and I have made repeated visits to churches that were not previously operating. Recently, I was excited to learn that two churches I thought would never recover were now operating. In one of these churches located in a remote area next to a bayou, the pastor stayed at the church during Katrina. His body has never been found.

In my research, I learned some important lessons that can aid in the recovery of churches and their communities in the future.

Lesson #1: Outside Help Is Important

While local people were focused on the recovery of their houses and jobs, thousands of people from all over the country came to assist those impacted by Katrina. I believe this outside help was critical to the survival of churches in the New Orleans area. Most of the churches that died in Orleans Parish were small, with no contacts outside the area. No one …

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