While up to 100,000 refugees were evacuated out of the drowned city of New Orleans, Samaritan's Purse was already helping the surrounding countryside and its forgotten communities.
Before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and pummeled Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on Monday, Samaritans Purse mobilized its Disaster Relief Units and now have hundreds of volunteers who are working from Mobile, Ala., westward toward Biloxi and New Orleans.
When we see the overwhelming destruction, many people ask where do you even begin to respond? It starts with helping just one person, one family at a time in areas that have been hit the hardest, said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse.
In Mobile, Ala., 72-year-old June Sells felt trapped in her home when a tree had fallen on her roof.
We werent scared of the floods, but we were of the wind. My house is surrounded by trees," she explained.
It blocked her driveway and covered most of her front yard. A man from her church tried to help, but after several hours all they had done was clean away a few small limbs.
I was on standstill, she said. With the tree down I felt like I was closed in.
Four days after the storm, Sells life began to return to normal. A team from Samaritan's Purse, equipped with chain saws and a small tractor, removed the tree.
I feel blessed, she said, truly blessed. Its overwhelming that people come here to help their neighbor. In so many instances people just walk by.
As early as the morning after the storm hit, nine trucks rolled out from the organization's headquarters in Boone, N.C. Three were stuffed with tools, pumps, lights, generators, shovels, wheelbarrows, and rolls of durable plastic for temporary roofing. Other trucks pulled trailers hauling heavy equipment including front-end loaders for debris removal.
With the supplies, workers are cleaning up whole communities. Crews with chain saws and heavy equipment are removing trees that toppled onto houses and across streets. Other teams covered damaged roofs with weatherproof plastic, set up generators to provide emergency electricity for the sick or elderly, and pumped water and cleared debris from flooded homes.
"We've got a whole team with tractor trailer trucks with tools and equipment to go into these affected areas," said Graham.
The relief convoy is the largest ever organized by Samaritans Purse in the United States. In its short history of five years, the organization has responded to tornados, floods, ice storms, and wildfires and helped over 3,300 families, one at a time.
The plan is to work through local churches who point them in the right direction like "compasses."
"The pastors in a community know where the poorest live, they know the widows, those that are uninsured, those that are living on a fixed income and cannot afford outside help," he said. "This is the time when we work through the churches."
This is a "major undertaking," Graham added, and "the problem will be with us long past Christmas and well into next year." The teams are still working in Florida, where a series of hurricanes cost insurance companies tens of billions last year.
Because insurance companies take months to pay and many do not have any insurance, donations are still needed.
"We need help financially, Graham stated. Five dollars, ten dollars, whatever a person can give, 100, 1000.
Donations keep the trucks stocked and volunteers supplied. A case of fresh water costs $9, roofing plywood is $25, and plastic to cover a typical roof costs $90.
"They've lost their job, theyve lost their house. They dont have any income, and they have no way to even repair or fix what they've got," Graham said.
In addition to financially support, Graham urgently requested for spiritual support through prayer.
"We need prayer, he said. We need prayer for the teams, that God would give them wisdom, that He would guide them to the right communities, to the right people that need help.
"And pray for the people that have been devastated, that they will look to God and his son Jesus Christ for comfort," Graham added. "There are a lot of hard-working, good, God-fearing people who need our help."
Donations to Samaritans Purse can be made at www.samaritanspurse.org or by calling (800) 567-8183.