Coast clergy members pleased with FEMA extending assistance to churches

Updated: Jan. 4, 2018 at 9:50 PM CST
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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will now be extended to churches.

The move announced this week by FEMA is music to the ears of many churches on the coast that were decimated by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.

Many church leaders are calling it a blessing.

"The pews were gone. It's like a washing machine just cycled through and everything was just topsy-turvy," said Karen Simmons who is the church administrative assistant at First Baptist Church of Gulfport.

First Baptist Church of Gulfport administrator Karen Simmons said her church celebrated its 120th anniversary shortly before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the entire building at it's old Highway 90 location.

Simmons still remembers the shock she felt after seeing the destruction.

"The sanctuary was destroyed. The chapel was destroyed. Our office building across the street, the east end of it was gone," Simmons recalled.

Back then, FEMA didn't extend assistance to houses of worship.

Leggett Memorial United Methodist Church in Biloxi was left with nothing, but a slab and its metal frame.

Reverend Rachel Benefield-Pfaff of Leggett United Methodist Church in Biloxi wasn't the pastor when Hurricane Katrina hit her church, but said the hurricane caused so much damage that it took seven years for the church to get back on its feet.

"The church only received less than half of what it was insured for and partly because of the water," said Reverend Benefield-Pfaff.

"Disaster like Katrina as huge as Katrina--that FEMA funding will come in very handy to help churches recover," said a pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Biloxi and Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church Gulfport

The newest move from FEMA to extend assistance to houses of worship is good news to several church leaders. First Baptist Church Gulfport Senior Associate Pastor Eric Smith said the assistance will fill in gaps.

"The only time that this FEMA assistance will be given is where there is not a loan an SBA loan or insurance proceeds to cover a loss. So I think it's good that this gap is being covered," said Pastor Smith.

A release from Senator Roger Wicker's office says the assistance is retroactive, meaning churches impacted by disasters on or after August 23 are eligible for the financial help.

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