By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA – As he visited with homeowners affected by a powerful tornado that badly damaged more than 200 homes in LaPlace, Gibbie McMillan, Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief director, was reminded again of why Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief exists – to show the love of Christ in a tragic situation.
Among those he met was Pat Murphy, a single woman living alone in the LaPlace area. When McMillan arrived on the scene, Murphy’s two sisters were being assisted by a disaster relief team in removing debris from her yard.
“She moved to LaPlace after Hurricane Katrina where she lost her home in New Orleans,” McMillan said. “She wept as the team prayed with her and her sisters.”
Murphy was served by a large team of Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from throughout the state. Hours after a series of tornadoes touched down in a number of southeast Louisiana communities, the disaster relief teams were on standby, ready for activation.
At least 12 tornadoes touched down in the state Feb. 23, the National Weather Service confirmed.
Convent, LaPlace, Paincourtville and Livingston Parish sustained the most significant damage with winds of 111-135 miles per hour according to the NWS.
The killer storm that ripped through the Assumption and St. James parish communities of Paincourtville and Convent carved a path 21 miles long and 300 to 350 yards wide. At Convent, the tornado leveled much of Sugar Hill RV Park, killed two people and injured more than 30.
Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief teams concentrated their efforts in LaPlace, Reserve, Napoleonville, Livingston and Convent – the work included cleaning up debris, placing tarps on homes and working on damaged roofs.
First Baptist Church of LaPlace and Celebration Church’s River Campuses, also in LaPlace, were among the churches who served as an area for drop off and distribution of supplies for storm victims.
First Baptist Church in LaPlace became the base of operations for the New Orleans Baptist Association’s disaster relief efforts. Several members from the church participated in assessing damage. The association organized disaster relief supplies and workers and the North American Mission Board contributed two pallets of tarps and wooden slats for securing damaged roofs, according to a blog by Billy Puckett, community ministries director for the association.
“God answered prayers for help by sending His Church to serve, comfort and encourage,” Puckett said. “Those that came to serve in the name of Christ were a great testimony to the goodness of our God.
“Please continue to pray for those in LaPlace that have been affected by this disaster,” he continued. “Pray for the church in LaPlace, that the body of Christ would continue to serve in the strength that the Lord provides.”
Meanwhile, Celebration Church partnered with other ministries including Samaritan’s Purse as well as individuals to give out more than 8,000 feet of tarp, 250 cleaning kits, 13 pallets of bottled water, dozens of rakes, 100 brooms and 100 mops. Hope Reigns, the rapid response team from Eight Days of Hope, a national DR organization, provided coordination with Celebration Church as work orders came in on damaged homes.
Individuals coming to the church received physical supplies, but they also received an invitation from a volunteer to pray for them.
Pastor Checkerz Williams said many were emotional and grateful, including one woman who, after receiving storm supplies, returned to Celebration Church to help other storm victims over a four-day period, until the center closed Feb. 28. The woman also attended a service that day at the church.
“She was so moved by the love she experienced that she came back to serve,” Williams said. “It’s very moving and let’s us know that our labor is not in vain when you see the impact it has on that individual. It’s a great testimony to the way the Lord draws people together in times of crisis. We saw the power of the Lord working in that moment.”
Celebration Church has now transitioned to long-term recovery operations. Williams said as FEMA provides information regarding those who were uninsured or under insured he is working closely with St. John the Baptist Parish to coordinate rebuild efforts.
Williams encourage individuals and groups to follow the church’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/CelebrationRPC) to learn about upcoming opportunities to come to LaPlace to work on homes. The church also has set up a donation page for anyone wishing to give financially.
Tom Long, southeast regional disaster relief coordinator, said much of the teams’ work was ending by the first week of March, though he expects work in Napoleonville and Livingston should continue for a little while longer.
Long said the teams have completed more than 100 jobs at affected homes – each one a work of love through Christ.
“Our people are just a tremendous group that are willing to sit and listen to anyone in need,” Long said. “Every need is different but every need is important. The people who are hurting want someone to listen to them.”
McMillan said that while most work is winding down in southeast Louisiana, individuals can pray and donate to future disaster relief causes.
“The biggest needs are being available to go or give,” McMillan said. “There are still some needs of people in those areas. We are doing what we can to help them pick up the pieces.”
More information on how to donate and possibly become a disaster relief team member can be found at https://louisianabaptists.org/category/resources/disaster-relief/.