By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
[img_assist|nid=7356|title=Chainsaw Crews|desc=While Louisiana’s Disaster Relief Teams have not had to deal with the projected castrophic flooding forecasted, they were prepared for the worst. Even though, they did not have to turn out in force here, they have responded to the needs of Mississippi and Alabama hit hard by deadly tornadoes and spring storms, as well as needs in Louisiana.|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=491]MISSISSIPPI RIVERBANKS – As an event, it didn’t happen.
But Louisiana’s 4,300-plus trained Disaster Relief volunteers and its 74 DR units – feeding, shower/laundry, chain saw, mud-out, child care trailers – were ready, just in case Mississippi River floodwaters overtopped or breached levees anywhere from Lake Providence to the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s frustrating sometimes, but that’s the nature of the beast,” said Gibbie McMillan, director of Disaster Relief and men’s ministries for the Louisiana Baptist Convention. “All the preparatory work we did – but it was a blessing we didn’t need them.
“However, if we had had a need for them, they would have been there,” McMillan continued. “It’s a good time to be a Southern Baptist. You realize in times of need how big the family is that will come help you when you really need help.”
Over the last two months, Louisiana Baptists – including Disaster Relief units and church/association teams – have responded to needs in Alabama and Mississippi, as well as in Louisiana.
First to deploy – at the request of the Mississippi Baptist Convention on April 26 – was a 10-person feeding unit from the Northshore Baptist Association Waters to First Baptist Church of Meridian, Miss., who for 10 days prepared up to 10,000 meals a day.
On April 29, the Alabama Baptist Convention requested chain saw units and an incident command center to clean up Dekalb County, Ala. The request later added nearby Marshall County.
“We probably had over a hundred trained Disaster Relief volunteers from all over the state respond with chain saw units including heavy equipment, and probably 30 chaplains,” McMillan said. That included units from Eastern Louisiana, Two Rivers, and Washington Baptist Associations, plus other units from the Lake Charles area, and DeRidder/Melville area.
Larry Cupper, Freddie Arnold and Stan Statham served as the “White Cap” incident commanders, each relieving the other in a weekly rotation. Joe Kelly, pastor of Sunny Hill Baptist Church in Washington Baptist Association served with Statham as logistics officer.
“I got to follow Bro. Larry; he’s the veteran of veterans,” Statham said. “It went good. We did a lot of good work, lot of long hours.
“It was incredible the ministry that was done,” Statham continued. “These chain saw guys did a tremendous amount of work. There’s no way the Alabama Baptist Convention or the communities could have done it by themselves.”
He also expressed appreciation for the long hours and intense work of the Louisiana Disaster Relief chaplains.
“We took a group of chaplains one day to the Dekalb Medical Center in Fort Payne, the area’s largest hospital,” Statham said. “They saw more than 200 patients.”
About 40 people were killed in several tornadoes that devastated the area, Statham explained. “There was a lot of devastation in that area, bad stuff,” he said. “The chaplains did some great ministry up there.”
At one point, the hospital’s housekeeping personnel were in the parking lot, triaging patients. “It was obvious the emotional impact on those workers,” Statham said. “The chaplains had a chance to debrief those workers and talk with them and pray with them.”
On Mother’s Day, he sent the chaplains out to several churches, so they could talk with people after the morning service.
“Several pastors have called me about that,” Statham said. “They were there in those services in their yellow shirts, just visible, letting people know folks cared about them. That meant a lot to them and to their members, the pastors said.”
Alabama has requested a shower/laundry unit to be assigned to Tuscaloosa for the entire summer, McMillan said.
Louisiana Disaster Relief sent a shower/laundry unit from Northshore Association to New Roads, La., to minister to the National Guards assigned to protect the levee at that oxbow just south of the Morganza Spillway.
It sent another from Mt. Olive Association to do similar duty in Krotz Springs.
To assist these units, laundry units were also deployed: one from Webster Claiborne Association in Minden, and the other from Northshore Association. Two of these units stood down in the last week.
“The purpose of the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guards was to keep watch for levee boils,” McMillan said. “This is where the water saturates the earthen levees, and begins to blister through.”
More than 1,000 boils were spotted and treated. Sometimes piercing the boil with a pipe relieves the pressure; sometimes sandbags are placed on the boil to equalize the pressure and resolve the potential problem, McMillan explained.
“So far, so good,” McMillan said on June 2. “There doesn’t seem to be a problem at this point.”
Butte LaRose had anticipated as many as a thousand homes might have been flooded, but as the water receded, only five or six had suffered significant damage, McMillan said had been reported to him.
“They were preparing for five to six feet of water, and got one to two feet,” McMillan said. “By Wednesday of next week [June 8] we probably would need just one mud-out team.”
With the home state secure, several churches across Louisiana have made one-on-one connections with churches in Alabama to help with their clean-up and repair efforts.
Kingsville Baptist Church in Ball has partnered with Oak Grove Baptist Church in hard-hit Tuscaloosa. Oak Grove Pastor Patrick Branch is also coordinating faith-based relief efforts with the city of Tuscaloosa, and more help is needed there, said Josh Dickson, pastor of administration at Kingsville. Call Branch at 205.752-7272 to offer assistance.
West Side Emmanuel in Bogalusa is partnering with Creek Path Baptist Church in Guntersville. Pastor Rick Douglas is coordinating faith-based relief efforts in that area of northeastern Alabama, and more help is needed there, too. Call Douglas at 256.505.7721 to offer assistance.
Despite the devastation in Joplin, Mo., help is not needed there, McMillan said. In addition to the Missouri Baptist Convention having a strong Disaster Relief contingent, Joplin is near the Arkansas and Oklahoma state lines. Both states also have solid Disaster Relief ministries.
The Cooperative Program makes Disaster Relief ministry possible, McMillan said. It provides for the administration of what otherwise is a volunteer program.
“No other denomination has as great a tool as Southern Baptists have with the Cooperative Program,” McMillan said. “The Cooperative Program enables Disaster Relief to share the love of Jesus with people who are hurting, whose lives have been shattered.
“The operating expenses for Disaster Relief in Louisiana are supplied by the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering as well as Cooperative Program dollars received from Louisiana churches,” McMillan continued. “We have a wonderful network through the Cooperative Program, and it is wonderful because it really works.”
For additional information on Disaster Relief training or to respond to needs, call the LBC Disaster Relief office at 318.448.3402 ext. 280.