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On Katrina anniversary, New Orleans congregations weather Isaac

Three area congregations emerge unscathed from Category 1 hurricane
By Donald E. Skinner
9.3.12

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Melanie Morel-Ensminger

The Rev. Melanie Morel-Ensminger reported that First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans suffered no damage from Hurricane Isaac. (Dea Brayden)

Unitarian Universalist congregations in Louisiana survived Hurricane Isaac last week with little damage to congregational buildings.

The storm came ashore Tuesday, August 28, as a Category 1 hurricane and dropped up to 20 inches of rain in some areas as it slowly moved across the region. The city itself did not flood as it did during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, because levees that failed then had been reinforced. There was significant flooding however in outlying areas of the region. Much of the area did lose power for more than a day.

The Rev. Melanie Morel-Ensminger, minister of First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans, rode out the early part of the storm at her home Tuesday night, then evacuated to Atlanta the next day as the storm continued. “I don’t recommend driving in such a storm,” she said Thursday. “This thing has had all of us baffled. I’ve never seen a hurricane just sit there like this one did, rather than moving through. It was pretty scary that first night.”

The church building, which flooded seven years ago during Hurricane Katrina, was not damaged this time. The loss of electrical power was one of the worst parts of the storm, Morel-Ensminger said. “You couldn’t believe how hot it was in our house.”

Terry Van Brunt, worship chair at North Shore Unitarian Universalists in Lacombe, La., slept in a building next to the church during the hurricane, to keep an eye on things. In the 2005 storm the church lost part of its roof. “This time we lost a few shingles, but that’s about it,” he said.

One of the hardest aspects of this storm for UUs in New Orleans was that it stalled over New Orleans on the Katrina anniversary date, August 29. “The psychology of that is pretty hard to think about,” said Van Brunt. “It’s amazing how much of a flashback I get thinking about that.”

The third UU congregation in the metro area, Community Church UU, lost its building in 2005 to floodwaters. Since then it has rebuilt on the same location, but higher. It had no damage.

Homes of individual UUs throughout the region likely suffered some damage from flooding and downed trees.

Much of Baton Rouge, north of New Orleans, also lost power, and there were many trees down, said Diana Dorroh, of the First Unitarian Church there. No damage was reported to the church building. In another development related to storm recovery, Quo Vadis Breaux, who for four years has led the UU-backed Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal in New Orleans, retired from that position, effective August 31. The Center, operated by all three local congregations, coordinates the work of volunteers who come from across the country to help repair the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed it. Thousands of volunteers have done work through the center.

Breaux is being succeeded as executive director by Deanna Vandiver, who will be ordained as a UU minister this fall by the three congregations. Breaux had previously done similar work through the UU Service Committee. In her resignation letter she referred to “fantastic years of hard work and discovery as we realized repeatedly how magnificent the human journey can be when we reach out to each other in solidarity.”

Morel-Ensminger said, “We are all grateful beyond words for Quo Vadis’ many contributions to the recovery of the area and the knitting together of our three congregations into a cohesive social justice unit. She has been invaluable.”


An abridged version of this article appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of UU World ("Churches weather Hurricane Isaac," page 46). See sidebar for links to related resources.

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