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Southern Baptists serve meals, clear debris in aftermath of Hurricane Laura

Over the weekend, volunteers with Louisiana Southern Baptist Disaster Relief served residents food provided by a local Sonic restaurant. Water and electricity is still cut off for many residents living in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura which struck in the early morning hours of Thursday, Aug. 27. Send Relief photo

LAKE CHARLES, La. (BP) – In the wake of Hurricane Laura, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams from across the nation are converging on the Gulf Coast to serve storm survivors. Some, like Lake Charles resident and Louisiana SBDR volunteer Reggy Saxon, only had to journey a few miles.

Reggy Saxon is a resident of Lake Charles, La., and a volunteer with Louisiana Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. He and his wife weathered Hurricane Laura at their daughter’s house in Moss Bluff, La., hoping to miss the worst of the storm. Still, winds toppled his RV leaving its contents trapped inside. Send Relief photo

“We opted to ride the storm out in Moss Bluff, just north of Lake Charles at my daughter’s house. It was a pretty hair-raising experience,” Saxon said. “By the time the sun went down, it was totally surreal. Everything was calm and peaceful just like we’d always heard about before a storm.”

Then, Laura arrived early Thursday morning (Aug. 27) with winds in excess of 140mph, making the hurricane one of the strongest storms ever to hit Louisiana.

When Saxon traveled to his daughter’s house the night before the storm, he brought a camper trailer filled with supplies and clothes. His daughter’s house came away with a few holes in the roof, but the storm blew Saxon’s camper onto its side, doors facing the ground, so that the contents remain inaccessible.

Even so, Saxon and his family said they were blessed to have come out as well as they did. Down the road from Saxon’s daughter, several trees fell on a neighboring house. In another home, a tree went through a wall as if it had been hurled like a javelin.

At Saxon’s own home, numerous snapped and downed trees miraculously avoided his house, though wind and debris tore up his shed.

A few miles from where Saxon and his wife live are downed towers that feed electricity from power plants to smaller cities and towns. The toppling of those towers is a major reason officials expect the power to be out for an extended period.

Severe damage to a water treatment plant in the area has created a hurdle in getting water to the city as well.

“There are 200,000 people without water who aren’t likely to get it back for weeks. That’s how badly the infrastructure was damaged during the storm,” said Sam Porter, national director for SBDR with Send Relief and the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “People are driving 40 miles just to get gas and minimal food.”

That devastated infrastructure, coupled with COVID-19 restrictions, has created numerous challenges for many relief organizations seeking to establish the much-needed response, but Southern Baptist relief volunteers are persevering.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) and Louisiana Baptist DR teams began providing meals and doing chainsaw work over the weekend. The SBTC is operating out of Liberty Baptist Church in Bridge City, Texas, and Louisiana SBDR is at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La. Texas Baptist Men began serving in the community of Orange, Texas, basing their operations out of North Orange Baptist Church.

Steve Masters, who leads the Baptist Collegiate Ministries at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, gathered more than 70 students and 15 adult volunteers from surrounding churches to make a day trip to Lake Charles.

“The tree damage from Hurricane Laura is horrific. It is the most widespread tree damage I have ever seen,” Masters said.

The students are part of one of the first collegiate SBDR teams in the nation, which came together in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina. With trained leaders and equipment, they cut up trees and hauled debris to the street at nine homes.

“The students spent the day working hard helping others,” Masters said. “They were energetic and flexible and worked very well together. They represented Christ in a great way.”

In the near future, SBDR volunteers from multiple states plan to travel to southwest Louisiana to cook meals and continue with the recovery and rebuilding effort. Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm for Southern Baptists, will continue sending recovery supplies.

Volunteers like Saxon persist despite the emotional and physical obstacles that accompany assisting a disaster response in their own back yard.

“We’re pretty resilient,” Saxon said. “Folks who work in disaster relief, we see a lot. We see people go through it, but it’s a little different when you’re going through it, and you’re tending to others as well.

“But our hearts are still here. We’re the hands and feet of Christ. It’s our job to be there when people are in need. We are giving people hope out in that church parking lot that they don’t have before they come here.”

To donate to Hurricane Laura Southern Baptist relief efforts visit sendrelief.org/Laura.