Hurricane Ida death toll climbs as Southern Baptist response continues

By Diana Chandler

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) – More than 80 Southern Baptist churches in South Louisiana suffered structural damage in Hurricane Ida, Louisiana Baptist Convention Director of Missions John Hebert told Baptist Press Wednesday (Sept. 1).

“We have churches ranging from desperate to recovering, and the desperate ones need help. They’re below I-10. Insurance rates are out of this world. It’s going to be tough for them,” Hebert said. “But most of our churches will be OK in the long run. It’s just right now, we have a crisis at hand and we need all the help we can get.”

Floodwaters left behind by Hurricane Ida in LaPlace, Louisiana, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. The storm, wielding some of the most powerful winds ever to hit the state, drove a wall of water inland when it thundered ashore Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane and reversed the course of part of the Mississippi River. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Churches in several communities in Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. John the Baptist and Jefferson parishes were damaged, including churches on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain and spanning more than 150 miles inland to Denham Springs. Ida killed at least eight people in the state.

“Devastation runs straight up 55, massively damaged all the way to Denham Springs,” said Hebert, who is assisting churches and pastors in recovery efforts as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief focuses on the larger community.

“Churches are just trying to get through the week right now,” he said. “We’re trying to just take care of the basic needs. … But they can’t think beyond getting the power back on right now.”

Louisiana deaths include four nursing home residents who died Thursday (Sept. 2) and were among hundreds evacuated to Tangipahoa Parish ahead of the storm, reported. The bulk of the deaths from Hurricane Ida have occurred in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland as the remnants of the storm system caused massive flash flooding Wednesday in the Northeast.

The overall death toll from Ida has climbed to at least 61, according to ABC News.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) leaders in the Northeast have begun assessing the needs. State SBDR teams from South Carolina, Michigan and Ohio are expected to travel to assist with flood recovery in those affected states. Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm for Southern Baptists, will support those efforts by sending supplies from their ministry center in Ashland, Ky.

In Louisiana, Southern Baptists have established multiple mass feeding units in New Orleans, Morgan City, Hammond and multiple locations on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain. SBDR volunteers have prepared more than 30,000 meals as of Friday morning (Sept. 3).

A Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer with Missouri Baptists helps to prepare meals for Hurricane Ida survivors at a mass feeding site in Mandeville, La. Missouri Baptist photo.

“When people ask me why I choose to go into areas impacted like New Orleans, it is very clear to me,” said John Deacon, a member of Rock Spring Baptist Church in Louisburg, N.C., and volunteer with North Carolina Baptist’s SBDR team. “I am here to be the hands and feet of Jesus. You never know the people you may have contact with, to share with them how blessed we are to bring our God given talents and help those in need.”

Given the impact of Ida, SBDR and Send Relief anticipate recovery efforts in Louisiana will continue for several weeks. SBDR volunteer teams from across North America will assist with installing temporary roofing and removing downed trees and storm debris for local homeowners.

Herbert has focused on serving pastors and churches damaged during Ida, and the Louisiana Baptist Convention (LBC) has opened avenues to provide assistance to them.

“We need volunteers, we need money, we need relief supplies, and that’s what we’re focused on right now, is relief,” Hebert said. “The next phase of this is rebuild. You help them get stabilized, and then you can think about starting to rebuild and get it back the way it was. We need help getting these churches stabilized right now.”

First Baptist Church of Golden Meadow, which lost part of its roof in the storm, is preparing to serve as a feeding site Friday, according to its Facebook page. Water, tarps, diapers and wipes, hygiene products and cleaning supplies will be available. The church is also setting up a shower trailer, but said it won’t be usable until water service is restored.

Grand Isle, the lone inhabited barrier island on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, was decimated in the storm. First Baptist Church of Grand Isle, the only Southern Baptist congregation there, already had been without a pastor for months, previous pastor Nathan Stanford said. No one associated with the church was available for comment today.

“Grand Isle is wiped out. I’m understanding that the devastation’s like we’ve never seen in a storm,” Hebert said. About 80 miles north of Grand Isle, the more than 30 churches in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes were also hard-hit.

“The churches there, almost all of them are damaged, and damaged pretty severely,” Hebert said. “Roofs are gone. Pastors that live there, their homes are affected. Probably everybody down there has to have a roof. Unless it’s a real heavy duty steel roof, it’s gone.”

The LBC lists supply drop-off locations and needed supplies on its website, requesting gas cans, brooms, disposable masks, latex gloves and other items, and is collecting information from pastors regarding damage to churches and homes.

First Baptist Church Kenner, La., was one of around 80 churches damaged by Hurricane Ida’s winds and floodwaters. Photo from Baptist Press.

Electrical power remains out in the area, with perhaps 1 million residents lacking power across several parishes. Entergy New Orleans said it was still assessing damage and hopes to have an estimate this evening of when more power will be restored, reported. Entergy restored power to about 11,500 customers in New Orleans Wednesday, focusing on critical services such as hospitals.

Nearly all of New Orleans is in the dark, as well as about 220,000 customers in East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston parishes, 200,000 in Baton Rouge, and all of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. Water is also turned off.

Financial donations can be given through Send Relief as the organization supports the Southern Baptist response to Hurricane Ida.

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Baptist Press and includes updates on Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and Send Relief activity as well as an update on Hurricane Ida’s death toll. Brandon Elrod contributed to this report.

Published September 3, 2021

Diana Chandler

Diana Chandler is senior writer for Baptist Press.