A disaster no matter the size is still a disaster when it affects people’s lives.
CHOUDRANT – A disaster no matter the size is still a disaster when it affects people’s lives.
Two weeks ago, Nov. 26, more than 40 homes were hastily evacuated when 11 cars of a westbound Kansas City Southern train derailed near the Lincoln Parish line between the north-central Louisiana communities of Choudrant and Calhoun.
The accident took place along a rural stretch of track just off U.S. 80, separated from the highway by a bank of trees, according to a release by Lincoln Parish Sheriff Mike Stone.
Three of the tanker cars left the track but managed to stay on the rail bed. The other two tankers left the track, slid down an embankment and settled in a V-shape among the trees next to the road.
Upon discovering the five derailed tankers were carrying butadiene, a highly flammable, butane-like substance, emergency personnel immediately cleared a 1/2-mile radius around the accident. While early reports indicated the presence of noxious gases, that was later found to be inaccurate. The danger was from the potential for fire.
If the butadiene had ignited and exploded, it was capable of incinerating everything in a 1.5 mile radius, Homeland Security said.
At the request of Choudrant Mayor Bill Sanderson, a member of First Baptist Choudrant, and officials of the Northwest Louisiana chapter of the American Red Cross, the church’s Family Life Center, as well as the one at First Baptist Calhoun, were opened immediately as temporary shelters for more than 40 evacuees.
The Red Cross also contacted David Abernathy of Rolling Hills Ministries, which is located four miles north of Ruston and just nine miles east of Choudrant, requesting assistance to help feed the evacuees.
“The mayor called the head of our benevolent committee, Ruth Sanderson, and she called the rest of us to come open up the Family Life Center,” First Choudrant member Clinton Hammons said. “We had no sooner got the coffee on when we started getting a steady trickle of people.
“I estimate we’ve gotten between 18 to 25 people,” Hammons continued. “Some people are staying at First Calhoun.”
Contacted by the Red Cross at 10 a.m., Abernathy went right to work preparing a hot lunch.
“Hurricanes Katrina and Rita taught us a lot,” Abernathy said. “So, we have plenty of experience in these type of situations.”
With its massive portable kitchens, Rolling Hills served more than 226,000 hot meals during Rita, and is capable of producing 25,000 meals a day. However, Abernathy said his volunteers could handle the cooking for this event in their newly refurbished kitchen.
“We took food for 50 people at lunch, and I plan on taking dinner for 100,” Abernathy said. “But there is no need to break out the big equipment. We can do everything we need right her in the kitchen.”
While lunch was a little rushed because of the short notice, Abernathy with more than 12 volunteers – wife Jerri, Chris Albritton, Laura Davis, Jimmy Colvin, Terry Foster, Sissy Creech, Marie McNabb, Gwani Green, Billy Grafton, Mary Foster and Mattieu Bissell – were making sure dinner was going to be plentiful and a little more special – chicken and dumplings, green beans and fruit salad.
“I would rather fix too much than not enough,” Abernathy said. “We will help enough to not only feed the evacuees, but those guys out there working the disaster as well. It is pretty chilly out there and a good hot meal can only help.”
Laurie DiIulio, emergency services director of the Northwest Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross, said she was amazed at how quickly and easily everything came together on such short notice.
“The cooperation here has just been tremendous,” DiIulio said. “We realize it is never easy to be displaced from one’s home, but to have these facilities and these volunteers helps a lot.
“We are doing everything we can to insure people are taking care of while they are out of their home,” the Red Cross leader continued. “These Baptist churches and volunteers are doing a wonderful job taking care of all of these people.”
Dennis Woodward, Director of Homeland Security for Lincoln Parish, echoed DiIulio’s sentiments.
“Having disaster relief units like Rolling Hills, church facilities like this one, and people who are willing to respond at a moment’s notice is just wonderful,” Woodward said. “We are working as quickly, and as safely, as we can to get the butane off-loaded from those tankers.”
As of late Monday evening, some residents were allowed to go back home, while others in a half-mile radius of the wreck were being told it would be a couple of more days.
“We would rather err on the side of caution,” Woodward said. “We are dealing with a highly flammable substance, and we plan on taking every precaution while offloading it.”
That wasn’t exactly the news Bonnie Bryan wanted to hear as she fretted over her livestock and chickens.
“I have 100 Angus cows and 50,000 chickens in two large chicken houses,” Bryan said. “I really wish that I could just run and feed them, but they telling me it is still too dangerous. I guess I can wait a few more days.”
Marci Adams, another of the evacuees, thought she might get to go home as she lived just outside the half-mile radius.
“It has been a blessing to have someplace to come, but I would rather be at home,” Adams said. “I am hoping they will let me go, but if not I think I am going to go to my sister’s house for the night.”
While First Choudrant’s Family Life Center served as the food distribution center, it also served as an information center for those people who would come and go throughout the day.
“We have had people in and out of here all day long,” said 80-year-old Ruth Sanderson, chairman of First Choudrant’s benevolent committee. “Some have left to walk through Wal-Mart while others just look for ways to kill time. We do what we can for them.”
When the Choudrant volunteer fire department asked to borrow 20 cots for the officers at the derailment, Sanderson helped Josh Sanderson, youth minister at First Baptist Ruston and a volunteer firefighter and Brandon John, a worker for the town of Choudrant to the truck.
Other area Baptist churches pitched in to help as well.
Larry Emory, pastor of Longstraw Baptist Church of Choudrant, stopped by the center to announce a travel trailer was being made available for any of the evacuees who needed to lie down.
“One of my members has a travel trailer that we will make available for use to anyone that needs it,” Emory said. “Everyone wants to do whatever they can to help out, and this is just a small way we can help.”
As the morning turned into afternoon, DiIulio begin looking at arrangements for all those who would have to spend the night away from their homes.
“First Baptist Choudrant is a wonderful food distribution center, but they are not set up for overnight guests. They don’t have showers, beds or some room that offer a little privacy. We are contracted with Emmanuel Baptist Ruston, and they are prepared to take as many people that show up, DiIulio said.
“Like I said, I can’t thank all of these churches and volunteers for what they’ve done,” the Red Cross director said. “They have certainly made my job a lot easier, and I think they’ve done a wonderful job with all of these poor people.”