By Brandon Elrod

LAKE CHARLES, La.—In the wake of Hurricane Laura, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams from across the nation are converging on the Gulf Coast to serve storm survivors. Some, such as Lake Charles resident and Louisiana SBDR volunteer Reggy Saxon, only had to journey a few miles.

“We opted to ride the storm out in Moss Bluff, just north of Lake Charles at my daughter’s house. It was a pretty hair-raising experience,” recalled Saxon. “By the time the sun went down, it was totally surreal. Everything was calm and peaceful just like we’d always heard about before a storm.”

Then, Laura arrived early Thursday morning (Aug. 27) with winds in excess of 140 miles, making the hurricane one of the strongest storms to hit Louisiana.

When Saxon traveled to his daughter’s house the night before the storm, he brought a camper trailer filled with supplies and clothes. His daughter’s house came away with a few holes in the roof, but the storm blew Saxon’s camper onto its side, doors facing the ground so that the contents remain inaccessible.

Even so, Saxon and his family said they were blessed to have come out as well as they did. Down the road from Saxon’s daughter, several trees fell on a neighboring house. In another home, a tree went through a wall as if it had been hurled like a javelin.

Reggy Saxon is a resident of Lake Charles, La., and a volunteer with Louisiana Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. He and his wife weathered Hurricane Laura at their daughter’s house in Moss Bluff, La., hoping to miss the worst of the storm. Still, winds toppled his RV leaving its contents trapped inside. Photo provided by Send Relief.

At Saxon’s own home, numerous snapped and downed trees miraculously avoided his house, though wind and debris tore up his shed.

A few miles from where Saxon and his wife live are downed transmission power lines, some of the major towers that feed electricity from power plants to smaller cities and towns. Those towers coming down serve as a major reason why officials expect the power to be out for an extended period.

Severe damage to a water treatment plant in the area has created a major hurdle in getting water to the city as well.

“There are 200,000 people without water who aren’t likely to get it back for weeks. That’s how badly the infrastructure was damaged during the storm,” said Sam Porter, national director for SBDR with Send Relief and the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “People are driving 40 miles just to get gas and minimal food.”

Over the weekend, volunteers with Louisiana Southern Baptist Disaster Relief served residents food provided by a local Sonic restaurant. Water and electricity is still cut off for many residents living in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura which struck in the early morning hours of Thursday, Aug. 27. Photo provided by Send Relief.

That devastated infrastructure along with adhering to COVID-19 restrictions has created numerous challenges for many relief organizations seeking to establish the much-needed response, but Southern Baptist relief volunteers are persevering.

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) and Louisiana Baptist SBDR teams began providing meals over the weekend and doing chainsaw work. The SBTC is operating out of Liberty Baptist Church in Bridge City, Texas and Louisiana SBDR is at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La. Texas Baptist Men began serving in the community of Orange, Texas, basing their operations out of North Orange Baptist Church.

Steve Masters, who leads Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La., gathered more than 70 BCM students and 15 adult volunteers from surrounding churches to make a day trip to Lake Charles.

“The tree damage from Hurricane Laura is horrific. It is the most widespread tree damage I have ever seen,” Masters shared.

The students are part of one of the first collegiate SBDR teams in the nation, which came together in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina. With trained leaders and equipment, they cut up trees and hauled debris to the street for nine different homes.

“The students spent the day working hard, helping others,” Masters noted. “They were energetic and flexible and worked very well together. They represented Christ in a great way.”

More than 70 Students from the Baptist Collegiate Ministry center at Louisiana State University served in Lake Charles over the weekend helping residents clear debris from their property. Hurricane Laura left a wide path of destruction in the area when it came ashore Thursday, Aug. 27. Southern Baptist volunteers were among the first to respond with more set to arrive later this week. Photo provided by Steve Masters.

As the days and weeks roll on, SBDR volunteers from multiple states will travel to southwest Louisiana to cook meals and continue with the recovery and rebuilding effort. Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm for Southern Baptists, will continue sending recovery supplies.

Volunteers like Saxon persist despite the emotional and physical obstacles that accompany assisting a disaster response in their own back yard.

“We’re pretty resilient. Folks who work in disaster relief, we see a lot. We see people go through it, but it’s a little different when you’re going through it, and you’re tending to others as well,” Saxon said.

“But our hearts are still here. We’re the hands and feet of Christ. It’s our job to be there when people are in need,” he continued. “We are giving people hope out in that church parking lot that they don’t have before they come here.”

To donate to Hurricane Laura Southern Baptist relief efforts visit https://www.sendrelief.org/Laura/.

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.