NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: recovering from Hurricane Laura.
The category 4 hurricane barreled into the Louisiana coast almost a week ago. It left at least 16 dead and more than 700,000 homes and businesses without power in Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Particularly hard hit? Lake Charles, Louisiana. Winds topped out at 133 miles per hour. They destroyed buildings, snapped trees, and overturned planes at the local airport.
WORLD Senior Correspondent Kim Henderson surveyed the damage first hand last Thursday, just hours after Laura blew through.
KIM HENDERSON, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Last week when authorities ordered communities in low-lying Southwest Louisiana to evacuate, Oberlin resident Paul Le June packed his bags and headed three hours north. He’s a true Cajun who grew up in a household with French as the primary language, and he’s only had to evacuate twice in 15 years.
LE JUNE: When we heard it was going to hit as a 4, we had to move. So we called hotel rooms for 45 minutes before we found the two here.
But not everyone chose to leave. Eighty-year-old Mary Sensat lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana, with her son. He struggles with bipolar disorder and other challenges.
SENSAT: The rest of the family would take me, but not him. So I said, un uh. No, I’m staying with him. That’s my child. So that’s why I stayed.
Riding out Hurricane Laura proved to be scary. About 2 o’clock Thursday morning, winds were buffeting Sensat’s house on all sides, exposing part of her roof. As a beam supporting her porch dislodged and blew into the yard, she and her son just crouched in a corner, praying.
SENSAT: It was the funniest noise and all these trees popping and the lights and everything, you know? And then all of a sudden it stopped, and then it whipped up again, just a “whoo” like that. The house looked like it wanted to just pop. It would just come out and come back in. And one door, we had to shut it. We had to nail it down. And my ceilings are all gone and everything else. All the rains out there, it’s just, it’s horrible.
Justin Schroeder spent the night downtown inside his church, First Baptist Lake Charles. Several families huddled together there and prayed as windows blew out and a vacuum-like suction destroyed part of the sanctuary.
SCHROEDER: I’ve grown up in Louisiana my whole life, but I’d never experienced anything like this intense as far as the wind was really blowing.
Downed utility poles and trees made many streets and even parts of Interstate 10 impassable after the storm. Convoys of relief workers detoured on rural blacktopped roads, passing thousands of acres of sugarcane laid low.
Wayne Collins has worked in and around the sugarcane fields of Port Allen all his life.
COLLINS: Well, right now it’s flat. It’s laid flat over. As the sun shines on it, when it dries up, the tops are going to turn and go up toward the sun. So it’s going to be like an “s.” It’s going to be crooked. Machinery has advanced to the point where they can pick it up and harvest it without it being a total loss. They will lose some though.
The first Samaritan’s Purse truck pulled into downtown Lake Charles Thursday afternoon. Todd Taylor is leading the response team. He says its main focus will be helping people get back into their homes. Volunteers will cut downed trees, clear yards, tarp roofs, remove wet sheetrock. And with temperatures nearing 90 in Lake Charles this week, it’s hot, dirty work.
TAYLOR: It’s going to be weeks before some people get electric restored, several of the local municipalities, the water systems are down. That’s going to be a big issue of slowing people’s return. They can’t return home until they can flush commodes and get running water. There’s a lot of people, though, that are riding it out here, and pretty soon their 72-hour food supply is going to start running low.
And then there’s the extra layer of COVID-19 complications. Taylor says Samaritan’s Purse has a pool of 150-thousand volunteers from Seattle to Florida and all points in between. But those wanting to help now face a new requirement.
TAYLOR: If volunteers choose to go out with us and come in and house with us, they have to come in with a negative COVID test in hand that can’t be more than 72 hours old. So there’s a lot of restrictions and that’s something that, you know, the volunteers are right now responsible for themselves. So they have to come in and they have to have that paper with them.
Taylor says we shouldn’t compare Hurricane Laura’s victims to those who lived through Katrina or Michael. They all suffer, but disasters present unique opportunities to restore hope.
TAYLOR: They’re questioning everything right now. And to be able to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ at a time like this—we know that sometimes we’re just encouraging believers, and other times we’re planting the very first seed of new faith. We get to be a part of God’s incredible plan, and He just happened to use a terrible disaster to bring us together.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Lake Charles, Louisiana.