Rev. William Lechnar
When the Rev. William Lechnar got on a flight to New Orleans for a conference and to visit some family earlier this week, he
had no idea he'd be holed up inside a relative's home facing a ferocious hurricane churning toward the Gulf Coast.
But that's exactly where he
was found Wednesday night, just 68 miles from New Orleans in Baton Rouge awaiting Hurricane Ivan and the heavy wind and rain expected to pound a four-state swath from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle. "Since Monday afternoon, we've gotten the indication that this was something big," said Lechnar, a Uniontown native who is a priest in the Diocese of Greensburg.
After hearing the advisories about Ivan, Lechnar
cousin, aunt and uncle packed into two cars and made a 68-mile drive Monday that took more than six hours to complete.Residents have been evacuating the Gulf Coast since Monday afternoon, and he
family wasted little time getting out of Ivan's way.He
said many others in the city weren't so fortunate. "There are thousands of people who are homeless or are low-income who rely on public transportation," he
said."How are they going to get out?They don't, and there will be thousands of people trying to ride out this storm."Lechnar
was one of almost 2,000 people in New Orleans for the International Catholic Stewardship Conference and one of more than 10,000 conventioneers in the city this week.Very few of them were able to get out of the area before the storm, and are now holed up in upper floors of hotels.Many of the sick and elderly were taken to local hospitals or the Louisiana Superdome
said, but most residents had little time to pack their belongings before heading out. "What do you take with only a half-hour to pack?There's not any time to take very much," he
said. Lechnar, 40, is a graduate of Geibel Catholic High School.He was ordained to the priesthood in 1997 and is assigned to Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Greensburg, where he serves as the consultant for planning in the Office of Pastoral Life and Planning for the diocese.
New Orleans is a heavily Catholic city, and residents place statues of Our Lady of Prompt Succor throughout hurricane season to ward away strong storms like Ivan.Nuns who tried to save their convent during a fire that destroyed much of the city first displayed the statue, he
said, and the fire eventually turned and spared their home. "Ever since, people in New Orleans pray to Our Lady of Prompt Succor, and everyone is praying to her
said the storm did make a slight turn away from New Orleans Wednesday toward the Alabama-Mississippi line, but said people won't stop praying until the storm has passed.He
said forecasters have predicted between 5 and 10 inches of rain to fall in Baton Rouge, with between 15 and 20 inches to be dumped on New Orleans.People are concerned that chemicals and acids from the oil refineries and chemical factories may seep into the water and sewage system, and alligators and snakes will be tossed out of the swamps and into neighborhoods. "So many people are under stress trying to get out, but also wondering what they will come back to," he
family have plans to travel to Houston if conditions worsen Thursday morning.Until then, the prayers will continue in earnest. "This is my first hurricane, and I pray to God it's the last," he