Being hit by two hurricanes in six weeks has stretched the spiritual and emotional health of many in Lake Charles, La., to the breaking point, according to faith leaders engaged in disaster recovery there.
The coastal city was slammed by Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27. Power was still being restored to the community and repairs were under way when Hurricane Delta made landfall Oct. 9, reversing recovery and sinking residents further into frustration and despair.
“The whole country’s burdened right now with politics and COVID and all the uncertainties about the economy. And on top of all that, these folks get hit, and then hit again,” said Kyle Kelley, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Louisiana. “They were so thankful to get the power back after weeks and weeks, and then it’s off again. These are just really challenging times for these folks.”
To help, the National Baptist Convention of America and CBF are planning to offer spiritual care to the Lake Charles community, Kelley said. That effort emerges from the ongoing disaster response partnership the organizations formed after Hurricane Laura.
And the need is palpably real, said Samuel Tolbert Jr., NBCA president and pastor of Greater St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Charles.
Emotional health suffered from the cumulative effects of losing property, repeated evacuations and weeks away from home and being without power. Frustration and despair escalated for those whose Laura repairs were damaged by Delta.
“Many of the roofs that had been tarped were ripped off. Some people put on new roofs after Laura, and some of those roofs are off again,” Tolbert explained.
Some congregations experienced significant damage in both storms, he said. “I know of one church that put a new roof on their building after Laura then discovered structural damage requiring the roof to be taken off. Delta took part of it off for them.”
Tolbert said he’s experienced the weariness, too. With his home and church building damaged by both storms, he lived for weeks at a friend’s fish and hunting camp nearly two hours away. He hasn’t slept in his own bed since before Aug. 25 and has since purchased a motorhome for a sense of normalcy.
But he was astonished by the sense of confusion he experienced leaving town in that motorhome ahead of the most recent hurricane. “I almost couldn’t remember if I was evacuating from Laura or Delta.”
The CBF-NBCA partnership strategy for disaster response in the Lake Charles area continues to evolve since being complicated by Delta, said Rick Burnette, disaster response coordinator for CBF.
One recent accomplishment was finding a United Methodist church outside of town willing to serve as a hub for volunteer teams, he said. Identifying those teams remains a challenge, however.
“People have inquired but no one has signed up,” he said.
Burnette and Kelley said they’ve been encouraged by the willingness of CBF churches in the region to do what they can to help. Some have sent gift cards, donated money and one — Broadmoor Baptist Church in Baton Rouge — assembled 80 cleanup bucket kits, at a cost of about $100 each, for use in Lake Charles.
Another development was Kenny Phillips’ visit to Lake Charles last week. Phillips is the CBF Florida disaster response coordinator who has led domestic and international disaster recovery efforts for the Fellowship.
Phillips’ arrival was a sign that things were looking up, Tolbert said. “He is very resourceful. He’s a praying brother, and he is a bright spot in the middle of this dilemma.”
But thanks to Delta, the recovery is essentially starting from zero, he said.
“The actual recovery — putting things back together — is almost at a standstill. People are waiting for insurance, or assurance from God, on what steps to take next.”
Financial contributions to CBF’s Lake Charles disaster recovery efforts may be made online.