First by Water, then by Fire: Prominent Baptist Church in Slidell, Louisiana, Once Destroyed by Katrina is Gutted by Flames

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Late Thursday night, a Baptist church in Slidell was destroyed by fire. It was the second time that a disaster had badly-damaged the church. The congregation and church leaders believe the first incident – Katrina – was an Act of God, but this time they aren’t so sure.

“My heart sunk. I was in disbelief,” said Pastor Frank Treme of Bayou Baptist Church in Slidell.

Treme said that someone driving by the Bayou Baptist Church in Slidell, saw it up in flames and called the fire department. Thirty-four firefighters were on the scene for five hours saving the structure. But the inside was a total loss. When the smoke cleared, the pastor said something’s not right.

“Outside there was bibles, couple bibles out there, a bicycle, water, bottled water and also they went into my office, took the garbage can and filled it up with tools,” said Treme.

The police and fire departments agree. “There are some circumstances surrounding this fire that have peaked our interest,” said  Chad Duffaut, Chief of Fire Prevention and Public Information for St. Tammany Fire District Number 1 in Slidell.

“We’re following up on several different leads and tips that we’ve gotten through the neighborhood and, like I said, at this point in time, it’s a suspicious fire but we’re not certain yet that it is an arson,” said Sgt. Daniel Seuzeneau of the Slidell Police Department.

One church member says lately there have been several break-ins, doors and windows have been shot, there was a theft from a car during a service, but everyone is baffled by the escalation to this kind of destruction.

“We’ve got black, whites, Hispanics. Everybody’s welcome. We’re glad to see anybody come. The more people, the better. The more people serving the Lord, the better it is,” said Billy Gipson, the church member who has been there the longest.

These Southern Baptists have rebuilt before. Hurricane Katrina left nearly six feet of water. Strangers did not want the congregation left without a place to worship. “People from everywhere, California, Arkansas, South Korea, many places, yes, they came or they sent money,” recalls Treme.

After Katrina, they had services in a member’s home for a year. This Sunday, they’ll have them in the gazebo in the side yard and then figure out what to do next. “This is a huge blow. It’s a devastation, but just like Katrina we’ll triumph. We’ll come back. We’ll rebuild. No matter if the church is here standing, the congregation’s still here,” said  Nicole Porter, a church member.

If anyone has any information or tips, call Slidell Police or Crimestoppers. You can also donate to help the church rebuild at any Whitney Bank.

SOURCE: Meg Farris
Eyewitness News

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