SBTC DR teams rush to Southeast Texas following Hurricane Laura

While the “unsurvivable” storm surge predicted by the National Weather Service wasn’t as bad as expected, portions of East Texas and Louisiana still suffered devastating flooding and wind damage as Hurricane Laura made landfall in the early hours of Thursday morning, Aug. 27, south of Lake Charles. 

The storm intensified into a Category 4 hurricane before striking the Gulf Coast along the Texas-Louisiana border, diminishing to a tropical storm by mid-Thursday as it moved north through Louisiana into southeastern Arkansas, bringing damaging winds, torrential rain and the threat of tornadoes.

Days before Laura made landfall, Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief volunteers, along with DR teams from other Southern Baptist state conventions, prepared to deploy to assist survivors.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief national director Sam Porter told Baptist Press on Aug. 26 that at least 10 SBDR response sites will be established in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, with mobile kitchens, chainsaw teams, flood recovery crews and chaplains. Send Relief deployed an 18-wheeler Tuesday, filled with rolled roofing, mold remediation spray, face masks and shields. Porter said all operations will adhere to strict COVID-19 safety protocols.

SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice confirmed to the TEXAN on August 27 that Send Relief also provided grants to the SBDR teams of affected states to help with Hurricane Laura relief.

Rapid SBTC DR response to assist evacuees

SBTC DR shower and laundry crews from Clay Road Baptist Church in Houston and First Baptist Leonard deployed even before the storm to support a shelter established in Huntsville at the Walker Country Fairgrounds following the mandatory evacuations of Orange, Port Arthur, Beaumont and Galveston. With evacuees permitted to return to their homes Friday and Saturday, the units will be reassigned elsewhere in Southeast Texas or sent to Louisiana, Stice said. 

Stice said additional SBTC DR teams are deploying rapidly, including a mass care feeding unit from the Unity Baptist Association in Lufkin which will establish operations Aug. 28 at the Salvation Army’s central kitchen in Beaumont to prepare food for survivors in both Texas and Louisiana.

Quick response kitchen units from Salem-Sayers Baptist and the Top O’ Texas Association in Pampa, fresh from Hurricane Hanna deployments, are also en route to Southeast Texas.

Shower units from Hillcrest Baptist Church and the Top O’ Texas Baptist Association have been directed to Central Baptist Church, Kirbyville, to support power line crews working with the Jasper-Newton Electric Cooperative. 

A laundry unit from the Bowie Baptist Association will serve power line crews and first responders housed at the East Texas Baptist Encampment.

A recovery team from Beaumont’s Calvary Baptist began clearing roads Aug. 27. SBTC DR chainsaw crews will head to Liberty Baptist in Bridge City over the weekend to begin assisting homeowners.

SBTC DR logistics and administrative personnel are also arriving in Southeast Texas. An incident management site has been established at First Baptist Church, Kountze, with Pastor Daniel White serving as incident commander.

Damage assessment from Hurricane Laura continues, Stice said, adding that volunteers will be deployed as needed and that SBTC DR is prepared to assist Louisiana once Texas’ needs are met.

“Once the homeowners get home, a lot of ministry will start,” Stice said.

An area still in recovery hit again

The threat of Hurricane Laura came as unwelcome news to Southeast Texas churches in the Golden Triangle Baptist Network still recovering from the September 2019 flooding from Tropical Storm Imelda and the destruction of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, GTBN Executive Director Jim Turbo told Baptist Press August 26.

Pastor Terry Wright of First Baptist Church of Vidor, in Orange County, told Baptist Press it feels like his church has been in recovery mode the past 15 years.

“Our church has been through so much here, Rita, and [2008’s Hurricane] Ike, and Imelda and Harvey … and then we worked with Katrina … and we’ve had some other floods in the area since then,” Wright said. “For the last 15 years it has been nothing but recovery, and our church still does not have all of its facilities from Imelda.”

Orange County, bordered by Sabine Lake, the Neches River and the Sabine River, is prone to flooding, Wright added. 

On Monday before Hurricane Laura, the church filled sandbags to place on church property and give to members. Members unable to evacuate to relatives’ homes, were directed to a shelter at First Baptist Church of Mount Enterprise, Texas, a partnering congregation about 150 miles north, Wright said.

First Baptist Vidor also prayed on Monday for a miracle.

“We’re just hoping and praying. We do believe that the Lord’s answered prayer,” Wright told BP, referring to Tropical Storm Marco that progressively weakened before easing ashore at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

On Thursday, the church’s prayers were answered again.

Wright told the TEXAN Thursday evening that First Baptist Vidor escaped largely unscathed from this most recent storm. 

“Other than being without power and some minor cosmetic damage, some trees and limbs down, we’ve weathered the storm fairly well,” Wright said

A recently purchased generator is alleviating the power outage, he added. The church has already opened its doors to SBDR personnel, including Porter and Send Relief drivers conveying supplies to the area.

“We just want to do what we can to facilitate helping others,” Wright said.

The pastor also expressed appreciation for the numerous messages and prayers, not just from the SBTC, but from around the country.

“Our people are praising the Lord that there was not damage here,” Wright said, conveying the church’s sympathy for communities in Texas and Louisiana suffering damage: “We feel for those folks. We’ve been there. We know what it’s like.”

This article also features reporting by Diana Chandler of Baptist Press.

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