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Thousands of Hurricane Katrina Evacuees Find Shelter in New Monolithic Dome Church

August 20, 2006

by Freda Parker

Houston's St. Agnes Baptist Church and Bishop Gene A. Moore were planning the inauguration of worship services in their brand new, spanking clean cathedral when Hurricane Katrina struck.

While the Katrina ordeal is far from over for thousands of evacuees, St. Agnes has completed its contribution to the relief effort. Unfortunately, it came with a price. Thousands of frightened, frantic people shuffling through caused considerable damage to the sanctuary.

When Hurricane Katrina -- the strongest recorded hurricane to ever hit our shores -- began bombarding Louisiana last August, communities across Texas opened their doors to some 245,000 evacuees.

About 150,000 fled or were transported to Houston.

At that point, Houston's St. Agnes Baptist Church and Bishop Gene A. Moore were planning the inauguration of worship services in their brand new, spanking clean cathedral. Their Monolithic Dome, with its diameter of 200 feet and height of 50 feet encompassed 31,000 square feet and seating for 4,000, and it was finally ready to be used.

That first use, however, turned out to be far different from what anyone had pictured or planned.

Sam Moore, Facilities Director at St. Agnes and Bishop Moore's brother, said that almost overnight they converted their beautiful new dome into a Service Center, for FEMA, the Red Cross and other organizations.

"We took in a lot of people at our facility," Moore said. "It was amazing. We were set up by FEMA and the Red Cross. They brought people in to fill out applications to determine eligibility for benefits -- vouchers for food, housing, whatever was needed.

"Our sanctuary was the central point for this activity. They set up tables and phone lines."

The Red Cross recruited volunteers, trained them to interview relief applicants and issue checks, and kept its St. Agnes Service Center open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

But relief efforts were not confined to the sanctuary. Moore said, "They were spread out all over the place. Except for the third floor where we didn't allow anyone, every inch of our dome was occupied."

St. Agnes allowed the police, medical personnel and volunteer lawyers who gave free legal advice to use their offices.

Moore said that Red Cross officials estimate that somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 various requests for help were brought to the Service Center at St. Agnes.

Mission Accomplished: The Aftermath

While the Katrina ordeal is far from over for thousands of evacuees, St. Agnes has completed its contribution to the relief effort. Unfortunately, it came with a price. Thousands of frightened, frantic people shuffling through caused considerable damage to the sanctuary. Wall areas had to be repainted and the carpeting replaced.

Would You Do It Again, Sam?

Taking all that into consideration -- the damages, the disappointments -- would St. Agnes do it again? That's the question I asked Sam Moore. He said, "Well, not on this scale -- because we couldn't. We are now using our new sanctuary for worship, so we would not displaceour membership. But knowing the Bishop and our congregation as I do, I know St. Agnes would help however we could."

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