In my local newspaper The Salem News yesterday they included an article about a Salem native, now a LaSallette priest, who is pastor of a parish in Sulfur, Louisiana. It describes the good things that Fr. John Welch and his people are doing for the refugees.
“We adopted one of the hotels,” said Welch, a Salem native, of the bond that has formed between St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, where he is pastor, and The Hampton Inn, one of about 10 hotels in Sulphur, La., which is filled to overflowing with victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Welch, a 1977 Salem High graduate, is a Catholic priest in Sulphur, a city of 20,000 near the Texas border that has been inundated with families fleeing the flood and devastation in New Orleans.
“We have about 4,000 evacuees,” he said of the hurricane guests in various local hotels. Different churches, he said, have adopted different hotels.
Last night, Welch and his parishioners, many of whom work the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, delivered 200 spaghetti dinners to hotel guests at The Hampton Inn.
I’ve also seen stories that suggest that nearly every family with the means in southern Louisiana and beyond is hosting a displaced family. Fr. Welch also reiterates something else I’ve seen elsewhere. A lot of people are sayingthey’re not going back, that they don’t want to put their lives on hold for the rebuilding of New Orleans or the other flooded towns. They’ve begun to put down roots right where they are.
“Many of the people are saying they’re not going back,” he said. “The schools have already accepted kids into the school system here. Jobs are being offered. ... The community has come together. They have really opened the doors and the city.”
On the other hand, I’m also seeing reports that offers to help refugees relocate out of the shelters in Louisiana and Texas, even temporarily, are being rebuffed by a lot of people who say that their roots are in Louisiana, and more specifically New Orleans, and that they don’t want to live anywhere else, even if they have to endure the hardship of being without a permanent home for a little while.
New Orleans, or some semblance of it, will undoubtedly be rebuilt, but what shape will it take? What will its economy look like when it is rebuilt? More importantly how long will it take? After all, as someone else pointed out, the World Trade Center was a complex of a handful of buildings knocked down and four years later they’re still just a hole in the ground. What will it take to rebuild a whole city’s infrastructure?