NEW ORLEANS — In many ways, New Orleans is coming back.
The economy, fueled by rebuilding efforts and open seaports to the Gulf of Mexico, registers unemployment at 3.8 percent. And the annual Jazz and Heritage Festival drew more than 400,000 people this spring.
North Carolina Baptists are still playing a part in helping the hard-hit area recover.
The first week of May, a team from Candlewyck Baptist Church in Charlotte was working at two homes in the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s (SBTC) designated zone. The group included a pharmacist, a college student, an insurance agent, a minister and two tradesmen.
“We are quite an eclectic group,” said David Reese, a Candlewyck member. The group traveled from North Carolina, Reese said, because without a steady stream of Baptist volunteers the volume of work “wouldn’t get done. It’s that simple.”
“It also helps people in our church see that we are involved with North American missions as well,” Reese added.
For every freshly painted, spick-and-span rebuild, there are three, maybe four, that look dilapidated. A few have weeds growing waist-high and the letters TFW (toxic flood water) still spray-painted on the front from the aftermath of the August 2005 disaster.
As Don Snipes drove down an inner-city street, he pointed to a peach-colored home rebuilt by Texas volunteers. But not far away, an elderly woman continues to power her appliances using extension cords running from her neighbor’s house. Blue tarps draped the ceiling to reduce rain leakage.
Not everyone will return and some houses will be demolished, yet the task that remains seems overwhelming, said Snipes, the SBTC’s onsite coordinator for Southern Baptists’ Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Hope) Rebuild effort.
Snipes, who came to the job from a pastorate in Big Spring, Texas, and experience in the construction industry, said Southern Baptists could continue NOAH for another decade and still have work to do.
The New Orleans population in March was estimated at 71.8 percent of its pre-Katrina level, according to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center.
Homeowners have the option of rebuilding, selling their property to the federal “Road Home” program, or relocating with government assistance to another Louisiana city.
“Some people have been on waiting lists (for rebuild assistance) for two years,” Snipes said.
A pressing need is skilled-labor volunteers such as electricians and plumbers, as well as continued help from non-skilled church members willing to grab a hammer or a paintbrush, Snipes said.
“We are in great need of electricians and plumbers all the time,” Snipes said. “There’s not a week that goes by that we can’t use plumbers and electricians. We can’t get a home inspected until we get it plumbed and wired.”
Call Operation NOAH Rebuild at (504) 362-4604.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the SBTC.)