Damage from torrential Gulf Coast rains recently blanketed parts of Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi leaving the region not only drenched, but also looking at possibly years of recovery.
Storm waters have damaged an estimated 5,000 homes in Louisiana alone in about 28 parishes, but that number will likely rise. As water recedes in one town and recovery begins, it’s likely cresting in another. Some of the state’s bigger rivers have yet to crest.
“This flood was not a respecter of any one place or people,” said David Abernathy, the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s disaster-relief incident commander. “This thing hit everybody. Rivers and lakes are cresting at records never seen before.”
By March 15, Abernathy said the challenge was rapidly growing as more reports come to the incident command team.
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Southern Baptist Disaster Relief
A Louisiana Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team unloads a truck of supplies from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in Ruston, La. The supplies will be used in flood relief efforts throughout the state where record rains have swamped entire communities and left residents stranded.
“The scope of the disaster is growing,” he said. “We need all the help we can get. We’re finding pockets of devastation everywhere. It’s hard to wrap your hands around how widespread it is.”
Rural churches have been ministering in isolated communities, but now fatigue is setting in.
Rainfall estimates vary, but Abernathy reports that some Louisiana communities received in excess of 24 inches. The effect has been similar to a hurricane but without the wind, he said. Some officials have called this flood the widest non-hurricane flooding in the state’s history.
The flooding in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi is one of several recent flood events, including incidents in Missouri and South Carolina.
“It’s been a long winter of floods,” said Mickey Caison, Southern Baptist executive director of disaster relief for the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “Southern Baptists will be able to step up.”
The weather system that brought the current flooding to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, also affected Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama. The storm precedes normal spring rains, which have yet to begin.
The prolonged nature of a widespread flooding event leaves disaster relief leaders in flux as they await assessments. Multiple states have already activated volunteers to assist, mostly in Louisiana. Leaders have mobilized feeding, mud-out, shower and laundry units that are currently operational. Many are serving in smaller communities to allow people there to wash their clothes, Abernathy said.
President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration for Louisiana on March 13, which should mean more resources will be available to victims and responders. At least three flood-related deaths have occurred in Louisiana.
NAMB, which coordinates Southern Baptists’ multi-state disaster responses, sent a shipment of supplies on March 14 to Ruston, La. Volunteers there will be receiving flood buckets, water, personal protection equipment, blankets and other essential items.
In East Texas, Texas Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief Director Terry Henderson said flooding occurred from Texarkana along the Louisiana border all the way to Orange, where he anticipates establishing an incident command team. He doesn’t expect water to crest in Orange until March 17. Mud-out recovery of homes has begun in Kilgore.
Scottie Stice, disaster relief director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), said their plans remained in flux Tuesday morning as the state shut down I-10.
“We have three shower units in the field supporting church shelters,” Stice said about some of their current activity. “We have a feeding unit at First Baptist Church, Vidor, and chainsaw teams in Malakoff.”
All SBTC mud-out teams are on alert awaiting recession of floodwaters, Stice said.
In Mississippi, most flood damage occurred around Clarksdale where Don Gann, the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board’s disaster relief director, estimated about 100 homes experienced some degree of flood damage.
Assessment has begun as has ministry by Mississippi Baptist disaster relief chaplains. Gann spent much of Monday meeting with area associational directors of missions and pastors.
Meanwhile, the veteran disaster-relief leader awaits further flooding in South Mississippi as water travels from North Louisiana.
“You can see it coming,” Gann said of the floodwaters. “But there’s not much you can do about it.”
Those wishing to donate to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief ministries.
Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers – including chaplains – and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained Disaster Relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a writer and photojournalist based in Atlanta.)