(Right) Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Louisiana Annual Conference, says flood recovery in Louisiana may take 3-5 years. Photo: Courtesy of Louisiana Annual Conference
By Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey
After Louisiana residents were struck twice by record flooding in 2016, some families wondered whether they would ever reach a “new normal.” But even with tens of thousands of homes damaged and many more thousands of lives up-ended, Louisianans remain hopeful, says Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey of the Louisiana Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Harvey understands the dynamics of long-term recovery. She was on the ground for weeks at a time, helping to respond to hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike, when they devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005 and 2008. In 2010 she was elected deputy general secretary of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and oversaw emergency responses from Haiti and Japan to Missouri and Alabama. In 2012, Harvey arrived in Louisiana just ahead of Hurricane Isaac and spent her first week as bishop of the Louisiana Conference in the field with survivors.
Now, as recovery again gets underway in Louisiana after this year’s floods, Harvey reflects below on the journey that lies ahead of this resilient people.
Recovery in Louisiana will be long and challenging, as we face three to five years of work ahead of us. UMCOR’s board of directors recently approved relief and recovery grants for the Louisiana Conference, and we are grateful for these funds. We know they come from generous and compassionate United Methodists all across the globe, and we intend to be good stewards of them. When disasters strike, the people of The United Methodist Church have been extravagantly generous.
From my personal experience, during Hurricane Katrina and in various UMCOR relief efforts, I know that the process of recovery can be overwhelming. The impact of a disaster is cumulative. With each day that passes, challenges can seem unbearable. Residents want life to return to normal; yet the very definition of “normal” has changed and, in some cases, survivors don’t even remember what “normal” was.
Waters rise and, in the blink of an eye, the contents of survivors’ homes are covered in mud and quickly discarded and placed on the street. And while this personal "stuff" may be just that—stuff—it’s still our stuff. A dining room table where Thanksgivings were shared, a treasured Christmas ornament, and all the things we thought would remain in our families for generations now sit on the curb destined for a landfill.
I have learned that the process of recovery, on all levels, takes time. It is a process the people of Louisiana have undertaken time and time and time again, yet they are resilient and hopeful. Many people lost everything to Hurricane Katrina, and now they have lost everything again to these recent floods. Yet, again, they are hopeful they can rebuild and recover.
In the midst of it all, many of our folk have spent a good deal of time waiting—waiting for the rain to stop, waiting for rescue, waiting for FEMA, waiting.… Now they wait in anticipation of what might be next.
On an almost daily basis, I am amazed by their stories of hope and promise. People who have lost everything have not lost hope. God truly is the God of hope and promise. Even—and especially—when things look impossible, all things are possible with God.
Support UMCOR’s response to flooding in Louisiana and other emergencies around the United States with your gift to UMCOR U.S. Disaster Response, Advance #901670.