Thursday, October 20, 2005

The losses continue

Driving home from work early tonight through the dead zone I noticed a big fire burning a few blocks off Elysian Field Boulevard and Claiborne Avenue.

I turned my car into the neighborhood of old shotgun double houses populated before Katrina by poor African Americans. The burning building was a church of a design fairly typical for the neighborhood. It was a fairly small red brick and wood building, single story, and capped in the front by a short, stout steeple.

By the time I arrived flames were shooting 10 feet to 15 feet from most of the building's roof. There were about six fire trucks positioned on the streets along the church's front and exposed side. Soldiers roamed the surrounding intersections but they had little to do since so few people were in the area. Only one soldier checked my press i.d. as I walked up to the scene.

I met Walt Philbin, a senior crime reporter for The Times-Picayune, who told me that the church was beyond saving by the time firefighters arrived. The firefighters were working to keep the flames from jumping to nearby homes. Walt couldn't say how the blaze started.

As we watched from a nearby corner the steeple exploded in flames, slowly tilted back then collapsed into the burning sanctuary.

It was terribly sad watching the church burn. A woman and child seemed to be the only people from the neighborhood watching the fire. The woman said she didn't attend the church, which was home to a Baptist congregation.

In many poor neighborhoods, small churches like this one are the centers of safety, stability and hope.

I wondered if anyone who went to the church knew yet that the building had survived the hurricane only to burn to the ground two months later.

Only a month and a half ago I had walked into my church on Esplanade Avenue to discover that it had been virtually untouched by the catastrophe that swirled outside its doors. I felt like I had reconnected with a dear old friend.

I can't imagine how members of the burning church will feel when they discover its fate.

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