By Philip Timothy, Message Staff Writer
RAYNE – Just two weeks after attending a regional Disaster Relief training session at Acadian Baptist Center, the 10 from First Baptist Church Rayne who participated found themselves putting that training to use.
[img_assist|nid=7172|title=Rayne Tornado|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=67]On Saturday, March 5, an EF-2 tornado, packing 130 mile-per-hour winds, cut a swath of destruction five miles long and three football fields wide through the northwest corner of Rayne, a small southwest Louisiana town west of Lafayette.
According to the state Fire Marshal’s office, 42 houses were destroyed, 48 sustained major damage, 79 sustained minor to moderate damage and another 514 some damage – primarily the loss of shingles or other roofing materials.
The savage storm also took the life of 21-year-old Jalisa Granger – who was protecting her child when a tree fell on her house – and injured 11 others.
[img_assist|nid=7173|title=Rayne Tornado|desc=The sign leading to Rayne High School was one of the many structures damaged by an EF-2 tornado packing 130 mile-per-hour winds that hit the southwest Louisiana town Saturday, March 5. P.C. Piazza, The Advertiser photo|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=427]“I remember our people saying after the session that the training was good, but hopefully we would not have to put it to use,” First Rayne Pastor Gene Lee said. “Little did we know?”
First Rayne, which is where Lee is leading the feeding efforts for 20 to 30 people and where one of the shower units is stationed, sustained no damage during the storm, even though, it was just a mile from the tornado’s path.
“We were very blessed,” said Lee, who also happens to be a DR Blue Hat. “As a matter of fact, only one family in our congregation sustained any damage – the loss of some vinyl siding and shingles from their roof. Most of the damage was concentrated in our town’s poorer neighborhood.
“It is going to take time, but our town is going to come back from this tornado,” Lee said. “Our administration is really top notch. The mayor (Jim Petitjean) and the chief of police (Carrroll Stelly) have been outstanding, and I can’t say enough about them. They’ve really gone out of their way to help us do our job while tending to all the other needs.
“If every place in Louisiana had an administration as good as this one, it would make it so much easier,” Lee continued. “Rayne will rebuild. It is just going to take time, much prayer, and a lot of hard work. While I’m a little concerned about how those less fortunate will be able to cope, I know with God’s help they will do so.”
Saturday’s weather, though, was just the beginning of several days of turbulent spring weather as on Wednesday a band of severe thunderstorms rumbled across Louisiana, spawning three tornadoes – one in Bush that left one woman injured, one in Kenner, and one around Lacomb. The storms also stranded dozens in flooded homes and caused flash flooding in a number of other communities.
“It’s been a busy couple of days,” Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief Coordinator Gibbie McMillan said. “After both storms I received calls from Mississippi and Texas offering whatever assistance we needed.
“With the restructuring that has taken place at NAMB, half the DR staff is no longer there. This had led many states to strengthen our partnerships with other states,” McMillan said. “I thanked them, but told them we were OK and had it handled. This is why we (Disaster Relief) train and stay prepared, because you just never know when we will be needed,” McMillan said.
“You know it is hard to get people to train when there are no problems, but it is too late after a storm,” McMillan said. “So, I was very pleased to see the turnout — 170 people — two weeks earlier for the regional training session at ABC.”
It was training such as the regional event at ABC that allowed McMillan to attend a meeting in Rayne with plenty of assets at his disposal.
“When I attended the assessment meeting in Rayne,” McMillan said. “I already had James Irvine’s shower unit and three chain saw units on standby. The city officials were very nice, but they did not have a clue who we were or what we could do.
“After I explained to them who and what we were, they asked for the use of our shower unit, and wanted to know how long it would take to get the units. I told them it would be in Rayne in 1 ½-hours,” McMillan said. “I dispatched not one, but two shower units.”
Freddie Arnold, the white hat in Rayne, said the LBC’s DR units have made a “good positive impression on the city’s officials and the town’s people.”
“Everyone – city officials, police, and news media — have been so easy to work with,” Arnold said. “They are all working together to get this town back up on its feet. I really don’t see the need for us to be here much longer. We’ve got two more big teams coming in today (Thursday) from Baton Rouge, but we should be wrapping things up by the first of next week.”
In addition to the cooperativeness, Arnold said he has noticed the town has been very open to the presenting of the gospel by the different units and the seven chaplains on site.
“We have had three professions of faith since we go here,” Arnold said. “Sure, we do a lot of physical labor but people also need to realize that out that some of our most important work is to try and lead people to Christ.”
Fortunately, no DR units had to be deployed following the storms in southeastern Louisiana. As a matter of fact, North Shore’s shower unit was the one being utilized in Rayne.
“Tobey Pittman was our legs on the ground Thursday. He spent all day in the affected areas,” North Shore Baptist Association Director of Missions Lonnie Wascom said. “And I am pleased to report things are under control. We have told our chain saw units to stand down.
“The damage was limited to just a few spots and, thank God, was not as severe as we first thought,” Wascom said. “Hebron Baptist Church, near Bush, and Hope Baptist Church, which is located between Bush and Covington, have already mobilized to do compassion work.”
While the churches in the area mobilized to assist those affected by the flooding, Wascom said, “All had family to stay with, so none of our churches had to shelter anyone.”