Hurricane Laura Makes Landfall, Louisiana Gets Most of the Damage
By Lindsay Peyton
Members of the Texas Annual Conference watched with bated breath as the already threatening Hurricane Laura strengthened to a Category 4 storm, while still in the Gulf, on Wednesday evening, Aug. 26. Several zip codes evacuated in Texas and Louisiana warned of dangerous storm surges, rapid floods and damaging winds. Thousands left behind their homes and belongings, while fears grew, especially considering the ongoing threat of COVID-19.
Hurricane Laura made landfall around 1 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 27, near Cameron, Louisiana, with raging 150 m.p.h. Even as the storm weakened to a Category 2, strong gusts continued at 110 m.p.h. Destruction followed in the path of the hurricane, as it turned into a tropical storm, moving towards Arkansas.
The storm surge was predicted to hit up to 30 miles inland in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, disrupting up to Interstate 10 between Beaumont and Lake Charles. Already, four deaths, resulting from fallen trees in Louisiana, were confirmed. The amount of residents in the hurricane’s wake who have lost power numbers in the hundreds of thousands.
Bishop Scott J. Jones reported that a number of churches in Texas did not sustain the severe damage expected, as the storm shifted east. There were accounts of loss of shingles and downed tree limbs.
“Our Texas Annual Conference District Superintendent and Disaster Recovery team have been in touch with churches across the area, and while initial reports are encouraging, we are still accessing the situation,” he said. “The Louisiana Conference has been hit hard, and they are going to need our support.”
The TAC is in communication with the Louisiana Conference, where the damage is more severe. A chemical plant fire in Lake Charles exploded after Laura, forcing residents of the city to shelter in place.
This is the Day School at University United Methodist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana. There is also damage inside the church office, the contemporary worship space and the kitchen. / Photo courtesy of the Louisiana Annual Conference
Counties in eastern Texas, including Orange, Bridge City, Port Neches and Netherlands, suffered more significant damage. District Superintendent for the Southeast District of the TAC, Romonica Malone-Wardley spent the morning calling pastors in affected areas, as well as the Beaumont city manager.
“Our area wasn’t hit as hard as anticipated,” she said.
Still, she is continuing to monitor the situation.
Beaumont’s McCabe Roberts Avenue UMC Pastor Dr. Rodney Graves said that power was out in the church building, but other damage to the structure was not apparent.
He and his wife Ava elected to stay in the parsonage. They stayed awake last night as the hurricane struck, listening as the wind strengthened around 2:30 a.m. and finally stopped about an hour later. “The rain sounded normal and that gave us some comfort,” he said.
Congregants at McCabe Roberts Avenue UMC suffered through Hurricane Harvey and the Imelda flooding. Graves spent the past two days calling members to check on them as the storm hovered in the Gulf and plans to now follow-up.
“This congregation has already experienced so much, that it doesn’t just mean physical havoc, but also emotional, mental and spiritual devastation,” the pastor said. “There was a need to be here for them.”
Graves pointed to scripture, where David has great fear and puts his faith in God. “He says, ‘My faith is bigger than my fear,’” Graves explained. “It’s not that there is no fear. I recognize that I have fear. I just don’t want fear to have me.”
In these troubled timed, he said turning to prayer and developing an open and authentic relationship with God can provide hope. “Friends and family draw close together,” he added. “Our relationship with God and with each other is how we get through this.”
The TAC’s Disaster Response Coordinator Dr. Godfrey Hubert began preparing for needs in the southeast part of the conference before the storm struck.
“The Texas Annual Conference will be supporting relief efforts across Texas and Louisiana and as soon as we learn more, we will communicate how you can help,” he said. “We appreciate everyone staying home and staying safe while rescue workers are cleaning up. We will let you know when it is safe to begin volunteering.”
Hubert was already preparing a more coordinated effort in response to disasters, including bringing AlertMedia software to benefit communication between churches. The first notification went out on Tuesday afternoon, telling congregations to stand by.
In addition, staff members have been working on mapping every house in the greater Houston area and Beaumont in risk of flooding. “We take social vulnerability and overlay that on top,” Hubert said.
Areas most at risk and most in need are identified, allowing congregations to check on those first, as recovery begins.
For the past couple of months, Hubert has built his disaster response team, helping congregations designate Disaster Readiness Coordinators (DRC) and assistant DRCs for this effort -- and getting them the necessary training.
Preparing for disasters includes understanding protocols and guidelines for COVID-19, Hubert explained, in addition to developing procedures for compassionate care, sheltering and responding to various needs of those who have suffered damage from storms.
Hubert is the founder of Texas Congregational Disaster Readiness (TXCDR), founder and executive director of Hope Disaster Recovery and founder and director of Cy-Hope, as well as Former Senior Pastor of Foundry Church.
In disaster relief, there are always uncertainties, he explained. “We are as ready as a disaster allows us to be,” he said. “Whatever happens, we will respond. We will help people become okay. We’re going to be here, and we’re going to coordinate.”
For individuals in need of assistance, contact Christine Riggle at the Mission Depot, firstname.lastname@example.org
For churches interested in providing shelter, visit www.txcdr.org.
For more information, visit www.txcumc.org/texasrecovers.com.