U-C: What I See

Friday, October 14, 2005

A letter from Jean Marie in New Orleans

Brothers and Sisters,

Many of you have gotten to know my close friend and colleague, Jean Marie Peacock. She is the associate pastor at Lakeview Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, and has served as the Vice-Moderator of the 216th General Assembly since June of last year. Jean Marie sends the following update on her experience of returning to New Orleans.

Dear Friends,

Greetings from the New Orleans area. We wanted to give you an update on our situation, since you have been so supportive of us with your expressions of care and concern.

Peter and I drove back to the New Orleans area the first weekend of October. We are staying across Lake Ponchatrain in Mandeville with the family of Peter's boss.

We went into our house for the first time on Tuesday, Oct 4th and met with our insurance adjuster. The house is a total loss and will have to be demolished. We arrived at the house to find that we could open neither front nor back doors. We pried open a window and entered a steamy, hot, dark house. It took some hours to uncover and open the rest of the windows, and we finally got the sliding-glass door open.

We have been salvaging anything we can at the house, which is mostly some dishes and pottery. We enter the house wearing disposable coveralls, safety glasses, a respirator and rubber boots. Fortunately, after the first few days, the weather has been much cooler.

Nearly everything inside is destroyed. I had never imaged how much damage could be done when things are in water for three weeks and in a humid environment for two more. The water level in the house was at least 7 feet. Even solid wood furniture turns to a pile of moldy boards when moved. What is left is piles of rubble throughout each room, with a layer of mud and slime over everything. It was still very wet, and the stench is terrible. We have opened windows and are letting it air out and dry out.

We have not been able to find housing yet. It is hard to find anything available. We called about one apartment, and they were showing it at one time to over 50 people. Last Thursday, we applied for a FEMA trailer or RV, but there is not much information at this point about when they will be available or where the trailer parks will be set up.

The company where Peter works (a small company that employs 5 people) took a hard hit. They had not been allowed back into the building where the lab and offices are located until Friday. When we arrived, the building management gave them a lease termination notice that all tenants were receiving. We had only 4 hours to get out of the lab everything they will need to set up temporary laboratory space. The elevators did not work, nor did we have air conditioning. The office and lab is on the 14th floor - so we had to lug everything down six long flights of stairs to the 8th floor of the parking garage. The building was closed up and stifling hot. We got our exercise! With space so tight these days, it is not clear where they will find a place to rent to set up the lab. We will wait and see.

Our congregation (Lakeview Presbyterian Church, 335 members) gathered for the first time for worship on Sunday in Baton Rouge in the afternoon, using space at another Presbyterian church. It was an emotional worship service, followed by dinner together at a local restaurant. It was wonderful to see people. Thirty-two people attended, including five children. Of the 14 households represented by those attending, only four homes did not flood. We are estimating that about 75% - 80% of the congregation has lost their homes and belongings inside. It will be a long road ahead. We are planning to continue with weekly worship, sharing space in Presbyterian churches in the New Orleans area that were not flooded. It is so important that we gather together for support and worship. On Sunday, we gathered for worship at 4pm, and it was not until 9pm that we cleared out of the restaurant. Everyone was so excited to be together, to share stories, and to hear news of church members. We also had a chance to mourn together the loss of one member of our congregation, Al Sindibaldi, who died in his home during Hurricane Katrina.

We have not yet started any clean up or salvage at the church building. The insurance adjusters finished there last Friday. We have not been able to get inside our offices yet, because the doors are swelled shut. The church building had at least 7 feet of water inside. Last night (Oct. 13) a group of members of the church gathered for a meeting of the “Recovery Team” to begin to make plans for the recovery and rebuilding of the congregation. We set priorities, discussed the fact that the Day School (preschool program for 80 children, ages 2-5) will have to be demolished. With the ceilings of the Day School now caving in, we do not feel it is safe for people to go in to salvage anything. There was wind damage to the church building, in addition to the flooding. Finding a licensed contractor for our area, a roofer, and others at this time – with the demands so great in the region – will be a challenge. We are not sure how much of the clean up work can be done by volunteer work crews. The mold, stench, sharp edges and nails protruding, etc cause health and safety concerns. Pews will have to be chain sawed apart to be carried out, because they are so heavily laden with water that they absorbed. The Christian education building has a second floor, and we hope to get generators to start dehumidification so that it can be cleaned and made ready for temporary office space.

Many churches have been asking if they can partner with us to help with the recovery and rebuilding of our congregation. Churches throughout the Gulf Coast are in need of assistance. If you would like to help, please be in touch through the presbyteries. In the Presbytery of South Louisiana, we have many churches that have been damaged and a good number that have been completely destroyed. Funds have been set up to help with the rebuilding of congregations and to assist with church staff salaries for those congregations so devastated that they will be unable to be self-supporting for some time. Contributions to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (you can make donations through the website at www.pcusa.org/pda) are greatly appreciated and of great assistance.

I guess that's the update for now. We're taking things a day at a time and relying on God's help, which is being made manifest in all the offers of care and concern that our congregation and presbytery have been receiving from churches and people around the country. There are many signs of God¹s presence all around us. When Peter and I went into our home for the first time, I was struck by the needlepoint that hung in our kitchen. Everything in the kitchen is a pile of rubble, with furniture broken in pieces, the refrigerator fallen in, with rust covering the stove, and mold growing everywhere, with cupboards broken and things strewn in the mud and dirt on the floor. Mold covers the walls, as well. Yet in the middle of the wall, in the middle of this mess ­ the needlepoint still hangs. It is untouched, a pristine white in the midst of the mold. It says, “God bless this home.”

This week, Peter and I celebrated our anniversary. Eight years ago, we never imagined that we would lose our house, with everything we own now able to fit in our car. Our home, however, is not the building - ­ it is who we are together and how we live in God’s grace and love. Our home in God’s arms is a blessed place. We'll make it through, and our spirits are good. God is with us and providing the strength and grace necessary to move forward with a positive outlook.

Hope you are well.

In Christ's peace,

Jean Marie PeacockVice Moderator, 216th General Assembly
Associate Pastor, Lakeview Presbyterian Church, New Orleans

P.S. If you are interested, we have posted some pictures of the damage inside our house, which you can find at: www.msnusers.com/Peacock-Kulakoskyfamily. At that website, you will see in the corner a place where it says "view pictures". When you click on that, you can then click on the first photo to view it, and "next" after that to see each enlarged photo. Members of our church and persons throughout the area have similar pictures of the damage to their homes. This is typical of the damage caused by the flooding in areas where homes were submerged in water.