Volunteers with faith-based humanitarian organizations are aiding victims of Hurricane Ida as they recover from the Category 4 storm that struck in Louisiana over the weekend and caused widespread damage and over 1 million people to lose power.
Since Saturday, nearly two dozen volunteers and staff from Convoy of Hope, a faith-based natural disaster relief organization, loaded 19 emergency-response tractor-trailers on the ground in Shreveport with supplies to respond in the first hours after Ida made landfall.
When the storm subsided, 23 volunteers and staff from the organization began the response by providing food, water, hygiene items, chainsaws, cleaning items, shovels, rakes and other supplies to many residents in need.
Ida struck Louisiana with 150 mile-per-hour winds early on Sunday, 16 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the state and Mississippi. After making landfall, the hurricane weakened into a Category 1 hurricane and then to a tropical storm early Monday.
The storm winds destroyed homes, infrastructure and multiple buildings. Many houses have been flooded.
Nearly all of southeast Louisiana and areas in New Orleans have lost electricity and will remain without power for days to come.
“It was a major catastrophic storm and many people are trapped in broken up and damaged infrastructure everywhere,” said Ethan Forhetz, the vice president of public engagement for Convoy of Hope, in an interview with The Christian Post. “It's heartbreaking. … When you are part of Convoy of Hope efforts, oftentimes, you see people on the worst day of their lives, in a helpless and hopeless state. And you realize how important little things are, such as food and water.”
Dozens of search parties and rescue crews are on the ground. They sifted through scattered debris, rummaged through demolished rubble and used machinery to clear infrastructure in search of residents who've been reported missing.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday that the death toll from Ida could grow “considerably.”
At least four people have been found dead, two in Louisiana and two in Mississippi.
In Louisiana, a man died while driving through floodwater in New Orleans and another person died after being struck by a falling tree in Prarieville. Two people were killed and 10 others injured when a highway collapsed in southeast Mississippi due to flooding.
Forhetz says it’s devastating to see how the storm has impacted many lives, but it's rewarding for him to participate in an effort to improve the lives of many in the aftermath of the disaster.
In the wake of natural disasters, Convoy of Hope works in partnership with churches where natural disasters occur. Volunteers from churches typically help distribute the items that Convoy of Hope provides.
“The Lord put us here to help bring comfort and to be the hands and feet of Jesus during a time when so many people are in dire need,” Forhetz said. “We call on the local Church to help with our efforts, and it’s a great partnership in these circumstances because they know the area better than we do since their churches are in the communities where the natural disasters happen.”
Another organization partnering with churches to aid victims of Hurricane Ida is Samaritan's Purse, an international evangelical humanitarian organization based in North Carolina.
Through Samaritan's Purse, which is headed by evangelist Franklin Graham, relief centers have been established with the help of local churches and volunteer teams that will work to clear yards, clean out flooded homes and repair damaged roofs.
"A lot of the assessments, we won't be able to get accomplished for the next couple of days because authorities are not letting people in right now," Graham told Tony Perkins on "Washington Watch" broadcast Monday. "Power lines are down across highways, trees are down across highways and they are still doing search and rescue."
Once Samaritan's Purse volunteers can access communities, Graham said the organization will be working with its church partners to search for people who are not insured and elderly individuals who don't have anyone to help them.
"When you have a storm like this, it just hits everybody in the path," Graham said.
Often, those who suffer damages to their livelihood due to natural disasters need encouragement, Forhetz explained.
People in desperate situations, he said, look for hope and the goal of Convoy of Hope is to give those in need support and to point them to Jesus.
“Our work doesn’t just involve providing supplies, but at times, we also give them a pat on the back, say encouraging words to them and even pray with them,” he said. “It’s a struggle. … Imagine losing your home and livelihood and not having the power to get your life back in order. It's traumatic ... [and] devastating. … Our goal is to help as many people as we can, for as long as we can and for as long as they need it.”
Forhetz said one way people can help is by giving financial donations to Convoy of Hope. For every dollar donated to Convoy of Hope, he said, 90 cents goes directly to disaster relief efforts.
“Many people see on the news the reporting on natural disasters and then they wonder how they can help. … Financial donations are the best way because we are truly an organization that wants to help,” he added.