Most Louisiana flooding victims are still much in the rescue phase, still in shock that their homes, businesses and communities remain underwater.
But it won’t be long before they enter a stage of emotional devastation induced by seeing damaged or destroyed dwellings and belongings, said a CBF minister in flood-ravaged Baton Rouge.
“It’s the worst flooding ever here,” said Mike Massar, pastor of University Baptist Church and interim coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Louisiana. “It’s even worse than (Hurricane) Katrina and all of the folks who are native to the area here say they have never seen anything quite like it.”
It’s why residents in the region are will soon need chaplains and counselors as much as they’ll need cleanup crews, Massar said.
“We need teams to help people with the grief they’re going to have with all this loss and to help them make some practical decisions,” he said.
But it may be a while before the spiritual triage system Massar envisions can go into effect.
Government and media reports Tuesday said the southeastern Louisiana flooding has impacted about 40,000 homes and killed at least eight people. So far, more than 20,000 residents have had to be rescued and close to 10,000 are staying in shelters. President Obama declared a federal emergency for what the state’s governor termed historic flooding.
And there may be more heavy rains on the way to overtop levees and floodgates in the region.
“Torrential rains eased Monday in flood-ravaged Louisiana but forecasters…warned the threat was far from over,” NBC News reported online.
‘This is dirty work’
But that isn’t sidelining faith-based disaster relief groups from heading into the area. Baptists from surrounding states, including Mississippi and Texas, already are mobilizing in response to requests for help in pockets throughout the flood zone.
Texas Baptist Men is preparing to operate in the Lake Arthur area, coming in at the request of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, said Terry Henderson, state disaster relief director for TBM.
“As soon as the water recedes … we will prepare meals, clean out homes, provide chaplains, laundry, showers and boxes to pack homeowners’ belongings,” Henderson said in an e-mail to Baptist News Global.
Similar preparations are being made by CBF and CBF Mississippi disaster officials.
CBF U.S. Disaster Response Coordinator Alan Williams is coordinating efforts with the state groups in Louisiana and Mississippi. Williams plans meetings at Broadmoor Baptist Church, a CBF partner congregation, and to evaluate damage with other area Fellowship leaders.
Search and rescue efforts remained underway Monday as water levels continue to rise and needs will be difficult to assess until initial recovery efforts conclude, Williams said.
“We will continue to keep Cooperative Baptists updated around the efforts and needs as they are solidified,” Williams said.
Williams also said volunteer teams and organized efforts will likely be needed in the coming days as the waters subside.
“This is dirty work,” Williams said. “Please stand by for us to call on teams to come clean out damaged structures once search and rescue efforts conclude.”
‘It really is terrible’
But action is being taken even before all the really dirty work begins, said Jason Coker, coordinator of CBF Mississippi.
The organization is collecting toiletries, feminine products and diapers for delivery to Baton Rouge, Coker said. Those items will continue to be delivered until different items are requested.
“We are also telling our people to send money directly to CBF Louisiana,” he said.
CBF Mississippi’s trailers, equipment and crews for muck-out operations will be sent as soon as requested and conditions permit, he said.
“We are taking directions from CBF Louisiana and are responding with strength, but also in a way that is not overwhelming,” Coker said.
Louisiana residents are overwhelmed enough as it is, Massar said.
The flooding has been especially hard on those in impoverished areas and for those who lived on high ground, outside of flood zones.
“At night, some people go to sleep and they wake up and there is a foot of water in their house,” he said.
Shelters are already full yet the floodwaters continue to rise in some areas.
“It really is terrible,” he said.
That’s why ministers will be so important in the coming days and weeks.
“The pastoral care side is the next really great need here,” he said.
“Right now it’s the trauma,” he added. “You almost need triage groups to go in and help with the emotional pain.”
— CBF’s Carrie McGuffin contributed to this report.