Since the severe flooding in Southeast Louisiana, Week of Compassion has been providing support to flood survivors through First Christian Church, Baton Rouge. Week of Compassion is committed to walking with them through the long process of recovery. Rev. Dr. David Chisham, senior minister, has already demonstrated incredible dedication, thoughtfulness, and pastoral leadership in the intervening weeks, and we are honored to have him and the people of FCCBRLA as partners in this ministry. Rev. Dr. Chisham shares this reflection and appeal.
HISTORIC, EPIC, MILLENIAL, BIBLICAL FLOODING IN SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA–The adjectives are many, trying to describe adequately the enormity of the week-long flood that hit Southeastern Louisiana in the middle of August, 2016. Emerging from an already difficult month that began with the death of Alton Sterling and following protests, then the unthinkable assassination of three law enforcement officers, an unnamed storm ambled in from the Florida panhandle, pausing over about a dozen parishes in Louisiana to dump an estimated 7 trillion gallons of water. That’s substantially more water than fell during Hurricane Katrina.
Much of the rainfall was concentrated Northeast of Baton Rouge; Watson, a city in Livingston Parish, received over 31 inches of water in 15 hours. The flat terrain of south Louisiana doesn’t receive much assistance from gravity to move that mass of water quickly, so as the small streams and rivers swelled with the massive influx of runoff, the water backed up into neighborhoods that had never seen floods before. As the mass of water continued its slow, southeast trek towards Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchatrain, new suburbs and towns were engulfed along the way, and we were helpless to do anything about it except to try to get out of its path.
Chris Culp, the chair of the elders at First Christian Church, evacuated the first day to his in-laws’ home when his neighborhood, one of the first to flood, was overrun. In the middle of the night there was a knock on his in-laws’ door telling them that they had to leave, water was now rising in that neighborhood. About 1 A.M. on a Sunday morning, he arrived at First Christian Church’s campus where Chris and his family sheltered for several days waiting for the waters to recede.
Ann Landry, a member of First Christian Church, had rescued friends from the initial flooding, and brought them to the safety of her home to sleep for the night. Ann awoke in the middle of the night to flood water already in her bedroom. The next morning, she, her 5 year-old son, the family dog and her friends had to float out of the neighborhood in a flat-bottom boat that navigated right up to her front door. Stories like this have been told time and again – homes that were safe and dry one day were flooded out the next day, sometimes several days later.
All totaled, an estimated 60,000 homes were flooded, and in some communities as much as 90% of the homes took on water. While First Christian Church’s building remained dry, 27 homes of families from First Christian Church ended up with water in them. A few only took on a few inches, many took on 2-4 feet, and most had no flood insurance because they were not in a flood zone. The phrase “we lost everything” has been a buzzing mantra around town. For those with insurance, rebuilding is costly; for those without insurance, FEMA will likely cover only a portion of the costs.
In the days following the flood it was a race to get back to homes to throw out ruined furnishings and tear out flooring and affected drywall. The heat and humidity remained high, creating the perfect petri dish to grow mold, so homes needed to be quickly gutted and interiors dried out before a plague of toxic fungus took over. With the help of church members, family members, and folks from the community, most of our congregants were able to bring the demolition phase to a close this past week. Files have been opened with FEMA and insurance agencies, and homes are drying out.
First Christian Church has been actively responding to needs of those flooded out. We’ve helped one another and friends and neighbors “muck out” their homes. We’ve opened a small depot stocked with airbeds, pillows, electric fans and cleanup supplies. We’ve partnered with a neighboring church, St. Paul Lutheran church, to provide meals to the community. And we’ve opened a staff shelter for Red Cross workers who have traveled to Baton Rouge to help with relief efforts.
Donated money has been used to answer immediate needs such as purchasing items for the depot like electric fans and food for the community meal. Week of Compassion has been a strong partner, sending direct grants to evacuees and flood victims. But it’s the task of long term rebuilding for which we really need to help our congregation and community. If you look around your own home, you’ll see items that you have collected over years, even decades, that make your home familiar and comfortable – the beautiful wood floors that would last a lifetime; the mattress upon which you rest each night; the wedding album and pictures of your children when they were babies. Now imagine all of that in a debris pile on your front lawn, destroyed in a matter of hours. The enormity of rebuilding from such a loss is daunting, and some things are impossible to replace, but with your donations to the flood relief effort, you have and can make it a little easier for our congregation and our community.
Here at First Christian Church, we look forward to helping our family and community rebuild and “re-nest” their homes. Once we’ve helped our families emerged from the cleanup phase and homes have dried and been treated, we look forward to helping them restore and restock their residences with necessities, and those things that make life a little more comfortable.
We at First Christian Church, and the Greater Baton Rouge community all realize that rebuilding is going to be a long term project, and it must go deeper than just getting families back into safe and dry homes. Following weeks of tension and violence that threatened to tear us apart, the floods have reminded us that we’re all in this together. The work we do is a call and confirmation of our Disciples identity statement – “we are a people of wholeness in a fragmented world.”
Thank you for your support of our church’s efforts to do Christ’s work in this moment of crisis.