By Billy Robinson
BATON ROUGE—On Aug. 11, rain began falling across the southern portion of Louisiana exceeding 20 inches in multiple parishes and causing catastrophic flooding that submerged more than 100,000 homes and businesses and killed 13 people.
In portions of Baton Rouge and Lafayette, accumulations peaked at 31.39 inches, which was more than during Hurricane Katrina and Isaac. The National Weather Service rated it a 1-in-1,000-year event. Louisiana Gov. John Edwards called the disaster a “historic, unprecedented flooding event” and declared a state of emergency.
Oh, the wonderful, beautiful, loving, extremely exciting and fulfilling joy that comes through serving in the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ! Wow at the great honor and privilege 14 South Carolina United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Early Response Team members experienced in their call to serve on a mission of dire need in Baton Rouge from Sept. 11-15.
It took a while for the floodwaters to subside in much of the state as it did in South Carolina during our big flood of 2015. First ERT teams were called from throughout the central portion of the United States, then the overwhelming massive magnitude of the flooding disaster warranted a call out to the Southeast.
Upon arrival, seasoned South Carolina ERT members’ first impressions were of previous responses to Mississippi and Louisiana to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike. The devastation seemed to go on forever in the hardest-hit areas, and most residents continuously made reference to Hurricane Katrina, with several stating that the flood aspect of the torrential rain was much worse.
We were housed at St. Andrews United Methodist Church, located at 17510 Monitor Ave., and we received job requests through their local coordinator Greg Bonner in conjunction with the UMC Disaster Command for Baton Rouge. The team put in three very hard days working in rough situations dealing with mold, muck-out and various forms of debris removal.
We cut limbs off one home and completely gutted the water-damaged and molded contents of five homes, which included tearing out everything from the flooring, sheetrock, insulation, cabinets and, yes, even the kitchen sinks. We then sprayed the homes down to help kill and prevent future mold. We also did mold remediation at two other homes and a wide variety of additional aid, such as helping people set up living quarters and securing their home and properties so they would be able to safely move back in to a portion of their home while waiting on rebuild for the rest.
There is such a massive amount of devastated homes that it will take a long time before many will see rebuild, especially since most did not have flood insurance. The large majority of people in the affected areas also lost their vehicles in the massive flood.
Physical tasks are one portion of our goal, but the main portion is always centered on helping give the survivors hope, inspiration and new life in Jesus Christ through our actions and compassion. In each home we were able to wonderfully do this as we worked side-by-side with the survivors and listened as they told their stories of survival, loss, help and emotional depression.
One lady shared how she was told floodwaters were headed her way, but she chose not to believe it, as it has never done it before in her 30-plus years in her home. Her mind was changed as she saw the waters come up her street so quickly that, as she tried to escape, the ever-rising water flooded out her car and she was forced to retreat into her home along with her pet, Dotson. A neighbor later rescued them in her boat. To do so, they had to break down a portion of her wooden fence. After completing her home, we also replaced the broken fence so she could bring Dotson home with her into a secured yard and second-story room that we helped set up for her to stay in.
Everywhere we went, we heard survivor stories and how people were grateful though their homes were devastated and most of their positions destroyed. Some were depressed and desperate for help, but most were still holding out hope and looking on the bright side. They were encouraging to us.
The people of this recent Louisiana flood will need help and a lot of it for a long period of time. There is a lack of volunteers to help and the need is dire, especially since the large majority had no flood insurance, as many did not live in what was considered a flood plain.
South Carolina ERT members helping in Baton Rouge were Team Leader Billy Robinson and wife, Trudy, of North; Assistant Leader and Treasurer Chuck Marshall of Chesnee; Chef Jill Evans of Salem; Pat Coleman and Cherlynn Hewitt of Boiling Springs; Robert (Bob) Nichols of Campobello; Ed Rothe of Hartsville; Keith Rowland and Joe Kennedy of Summerville; Richard Spencer of Ladson; Hugh Kight of Charleston; George Branham of Gaston; and Laima Brunner of Lexington.
Robinson is South Carolina UMVIM ERT coordinator.