Out-of-state volunteers have descended upon Louisana to tend to families in need in the wake of Hurricane Laura, with dozens serving with the evangelical nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse.
As thousands of residents will not have power for months and as some homes have been destroyed, the international evangelical humanitarian organization has established three hubs in the Creole State as it seeks to help dozens of communities in three counties impacted by the Category 4 storm.
“What we are seeing is that this storm really had no favorites,” Todd Taylor, Samaritan’s Purse director of U.S. disaster relief, told The Christian Post about the storm, which made landfall on Aug. 24 with sustained wind speeds of up to 150 miles per hour.
Hurricane Laura left 700,000 people without power across the tristate area.
“It affected everybody,” he said. “I have not driven by a home today that didn’t have at least a tree down in the yard.”
Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that regularly provides aid in the wake of natural disasters, began efforts late last week in Lake Charles, where the organization’s relief projects will be hosted out of Sale Street Baptist Church.
Last Saturday, some 25 volunteers from outside the state helped the Samaritan’s Purse team in Lake Charles clear trees and other debris off of homes. As of Monday afternoon, Taylor said that the volunteers have been able to help eight families in Lake Charles.
One homeowner helped by Samaritan’s Purse on Saturday is Garrison Worthington. The storm had uprooted a monstrous oak tree on top of his family’s home, which left a giant hole in the house.
Worthington and his family evacuated the area as Laura intensified to a Category 4 storm. When he returned, he found that not only did the storm damage his family home but also all of his neighbors’ homes as well.
“The worst thing was leaving Wednesday morning knowing that I’m probably coming back to a completely changed city — completely different than what I knew and loved,” Worthington said in a statement. “That I would probably come back to a house that would never be the same.”
In the Louisiana cities of DeRidder and Jennings, Samaritan’s Purse’s two other host sites are in the beginning stages of operation.
In DeRidder, volunteers began working on Sunday. Meanwhile, the organization's volunteer host site in Jennings became fully operational Tuesday.
“Samaritan’s Purse is making a commitment to the state of Louisiana to help with the cleanup,” Taylor said. “We are going to be here for quite a while. This is a big storm. The path of the wind was 100 miles from east to west. Those strong winds came about 75 miles inland. If you put that on a map, that is a big area. We need volunteers.”
The organization, for now, will initially be focusing on clearing up tree damage and tarping homes across Beauregard Parish, Calcasieu Parish, and also Jefferson Davis Parish.
“When we are fully operational, we will be able to serve pretty close to the entire parish of the three parishes,” Taylor explained. “We are talking about dozens of small communities in each parish.”
The Samaritan’s Purse director, who spoke with CP on the phone from Lake Charles, said that the thing that is delaying relief efforts the most is “lack of electricity.”
Taylor said that he spoke with one homeowner in Lake Charles on Monday who was told that it would be about two to three months before the electricity is restored to her home because the storm destroyed the power grid.
“Because of severe infrastructure damage throughout these affected parishes, all of our [host] churches are having run on generators,” he said. “We have to have the logistics taken care of to fuel to those generators and have electricians come up and things like that.”
“There is a lot of more logistical work for our response for a hurricane like this,” he added, noting that two of the host churches “do not have potable water.”
“That entire sewer system is down in those places. So we are having to wait to bring in additional volunteers until we can have porta-johns dropped off.”
Because the devastation of Hurricane Laura was spread out across Louisiana and Texas, Taylor said the charity is having a hard time attracting local volunteers because locals have their own damage to tend to or have friends or families that need help.
Even some out-of-state volunteers may be hesitant because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he explained.
“Volunteers are hesitant, between the mask mandates in certain areas and hotspots,” he detailed. “Volunteers that come to spend the night with us have to come with a current negative COVID test in hand. So there is a lot of things.”
While Samaritan’s Purse is initially focusing on tree removal, Taylor said it is too early to tell what the next phase of Samaritan’s Purse’s relief projects in Louisiana will be.
“There are so many things that go into the preliminary work of a rebuild program, just based on insurance and FEMA and things like that,” he said. “We can’t make that call until there has been sufficient time for the homeowners to figure out what their unmet needs are going to be.”
Those interested in volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse in Louisiana can click here.