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Volunteers prepare as oil reaches coast

Faith-based organizations plan response to massive Gulf of Mexico spill as oil begins washing up on coast.


Along the Gulf Coast, volunteers are gathering as oil from the BP Deep Water Horizons oil spill have begun to reach the coast.

In Florida, white sand beaches are being patrolled by volunteers from, among other groups, the Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service and the Florida Baptist Disaster Relief organization.

Many church groups are ready to go when they are needed, but it could be a week or more before they are able to actively go and serve in a full clean up capacity.

Some groups are on scene in Gulf Coast areas trying to see what will be needed, while others are gathering their resources and praying.

Two representatives from Mennonite Disaster Service traveled to Louisiana earlier this month to meet with local partners and MDS clients, past and present, to hear their stories and concerns regarding the BP Gulf oil spill.

"The main purpose of this trip was to hear, see and know what is going on down in the Gulf,” said Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster Service. "As we have learned from the past human-caused disasters, listening is an important component of disaster response, and is also a critical step in the recovery process."

According to Eddie Blackmon, director of the Florida Baptist disaster relief group, said there is a “giant group of volunteers” who are well-prepared to assist those who are involved in the clean up. They are ready, he said, with feeding units and shower and laundry facilities.

The Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) is monitoring the situation along the whole of the Gulf Coast. The Rev. Kevin Massey, LDR director reported they have met with people in their Texas-Louisiana-Gulf Coast Synod and say they will wait to see what services are needed.

Prayer is what they are offering at this time. In a message to all Lutherans last week, he said, “Please pray for the pastors and people of Lutheran congregations in these areas as they minister to their neighbors, especially those in places still working to recover from Hurricane Katrina.”

Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana is also in a wait-and-see…and pray mode. Until the spill begins to make landfall along their fragile shore, there is little else they can do.

For now, they are praying, but it will not be too much longer before they will moving into an action mode as well.

"It is such a difficult situation; we are in a wait-and-see mode," said Nell Bolton, executive director of the community service organization.

As the oil begins to come on shore - and even before that for some Louisianans who make their living on the open water (fishermen, for example, who are now shorebound and likely to remain so), the direct financial impact is already being seen.

While the spill makes its way toward shore all along the Gulf Coast, communities are bracing for the economic as well as the environmental impact. Industries from fishing to tourism are already being impacted. As the industries are being harmed, so are the people who work in the jobs. Families will be put in economic distress as a result of the spill.

This man-made disaster is moving toward the coast more slowly than a storm, but the effects may be as devastating and as costly to the families who live there.

Rosina Phillipe spoke to volunteers from MDS. She said the way of life for Gulf Coast communities will be impacted for a long time to come.

"The entire culture of coastal life here could be interrupted forever; we just don't know. Only God can see us through this," Philippe said. "There are reports, dire reports, and if what we hear and think is true, thousands and thousands of people, and all the other things that live here will impacted for decades."

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