Early Response Teams* from the Central Texas Conference joined several others to help the Louisiana Conference with recovery efforts after Hurricane Laura made landfall on August 27. The hurricane left 1.6 billion in damages to the forests and crops along the coastline. Fisheries and wildlife were also heavily affected with a total economic impact that will last for years.
And then there are people’s homes and businesses.
The United Methodist Church of DeRidder, Louisiana, a town of about 10,000, was host to recent ERT teams that were in place to remove trees, limbs, and debris from residents’ yards and homes. UMC teams were among the many organizations working to help in the weeks that followed August 27. Charme Robarts and her husband Dwight, representing FUMCFW joined team members from Ovilla and Mansfield churches the week of October 4. Their intention was to work through Friday, October 9, but the threat of Hurricane Delta meant DeRidder was evacuated on Thursday, October 8.
“Our team and several before us had worked using chainsaws and skidders to drag fallen trees and limbs out to the edge of streets so that debris removal vehicles could come and pick the piles up. Street after street was lined with deep and wide piles. But as is always the case with high powered winds, some houses and yards remained untouched while others were pummeled.”
“In southern Louisiana many trees are upwards of 50 feet tall and so even if only one tree falls in someone’s yard it is an expensive thing to deal with. Volunteer teams provide so much help in these situations, Charme said.
“During the days we were able to work, the skies were beautifully blue with a few white clouds. If you didn’t know there was another storm brewing in the gulf, you might think it was just beautiful fall weather in the deep south. Several weeks had passed since Laura hit, and most people had power and water since late September. Internet was still dicey, but lots of people were back in their homes if they had evacuated, trying to work through the rubble of trees. So, the volunteer teams had the chance not only to do grunt work of limbing and hauling but also to interact with people, to let them talk about their experience and to be a comforting presence — which is one of the marching orders of ERTs — ‘be a comforting presence.’
“We worked at the home of a woman who had retired from more than 40 years as an educator, principal, and finally superintendent of the school system there in DeRidder. Two trees came down on opposite ends of her house. On the end where her family room was, the roof and ceiling caved in, pushing the chandelier within 12 inches of the floor. Some rooms in the house were basically unscathed. She was unharmed and is staying in a friend’s home. The day we worked clearing and cleaning her yard, she was there raking along with us as much as she could. Her spirit and pleasant personality fueled us as we chopped and sawed and drug debris.”
Volunteer teams are invaluable in times of disaster, absorbing some of the expenses and personnel needed to face the tasks. And in the middle of all the trials and devastation that people endure in these times, the goodwill that is given and received through people helping each other is the kingdom of God on the ground — even the storm-ravaged ground.
The local pastor of DeRidder UMC told us that a professional debris removal company had seen a tree on the church property which like many, had uprooted in the rain and wind. The trunk diameter was almost 2 feet — more than volunteers can deal with. The manager told the pastor that they would remove that tree for the church — “because you guys (Methodists) are doing so much for everyone.”
Hearing that of course made us smile and grateful to be a part.
*Early Response Teams (ERTs) of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief — the humanitarian relief and development arm of The United Methodist Church) fill a specific need in the early days after a disaster to clean out damaged homes, remove debris, place tarps on roofs and otherwise help to prevent further damage, while providing a caring Christian presence.