Samaritan's Purse delivers strong presence in Gulf Coast after Hurricane Isaac
by Sherrie Norris
Disaster relief experts and volunteers from Samarian's Purse are in the Gulf Coast area providing assistance to victims of Hurricane Isaac.
While the physical needs of
the residents are immediate, so, too, are the spiritual and emotional needs of
those who have lost personal belongings, homes and vehicles, said the
organization's media relations coordinator, Karina Petersen.
Petersen spoke to the Watauga
Democrat on Wednesday from LaPlace, La., one of two staging areas near New
Orleans where Samaritan's Purse is concentrating its efforts.
Before Isaac hit, Petersen
said, the organization had teams in place near the coastal region, preparing to
work their way closer to the affected areas the storm moved inland.
Additional staff and a
convoy of heavy equipment and vehicles departed from Samaritan's Purse U.S.
Disaster Relief headquarters in North Wilkesboro on Sept. 1, including two
tractor-trailer units loaded with tarps, chainsaws, generators and other
With each of the disaster
relief units functioning as a self-supporting operations center, Petersen said,
staff and volunteers were able to move into action quickly.
Franklin Graham, president
and CEO of the organization, said in a news release, "Samaritan's Purse helped
thousands of homeowners seven years ago after Hurricane Katrina pounded some of
the same areas now facing more devastation. We want these homeowners to know
that they are loved and not forgotten, and we will do what we can to help."
Program manager Brent
Graybeal, assigned to coordinate and manage relief efforts in the New Orleans
area, said on Wednesday, from LaPlace, La., that two work sites have been set
up at churches -- one in the parish of St. John the Baptist and the second in
Lacombe, La., northeast of Lake Pontchartrain.
Graybeal is leading the team
in LaPlace, less than an hour from the gulf shore and five minutes from New
"After getting set-up on
Sunday, we began talking with the residents to see how we could help with their
most immediate needs," Graybeal said.
According to Petersen, the
first woman on the receiving end of the organization's assistance called
Samaritan's Purse her "lifeline" and said it gave her "new hope;" her husband
died eight months ago.
On Wednesday, Graybeal's
team consisted of "about 25 staff and
trained volunteers," with more expected.
During Graybeal's initial
meeting on Sunday with parish president, Natalie Robottom, it was estimated
that between 400 and 500 homes had been damaged in the Lake Pontchartrain area.
"This area wasn't even a
direct result of the storm," Graybeal said, "and was so far inland that most of
the residents felt that they were safe from coastal flooding."
During the week, the number
of flood- and wind-damaged homes continued to rise "exponentially," he said, to
about 6,900 by Wednesday.
"These are home that were
not affected by Katrtina," he said. "Many homeowners do not have flood
insurance and were caught by surprise."
Graybeal said their focus
was primarily on those who were not insured and who had the greatest needs. "We
are still trying to get handle on who they are," he said.
Many of the devastated
residents are elderly, with special needs, he said.
The severity of damage
varies, Graybeal said. "Flood waters were as high as six feet, maybe even 8
feet in places," he said, with most two feet or less. "The water rose quickly
in many cases, and fortunately, receded in just a few days, so there was not a
lot of mud and silt to deal with," he said.
The Samaritan's Purse teams
have formed positive working relationships with the parish residents and local
pastors. "As word gets out that we're here," Graybeal said, "more people are
coming to us for help."
In addition to helping
homeowners remove mud, damaged flooring, wet sheetrock, insulation and
furniture -- while disinfecting homes to prevent mold problems -- the teams are
also removing debris and trees from yards and covering roofs and exposed areas
"We are taking all those
things to the curb," he said. "FEMA has declared these disaster areas and are
providing removal services."
The teams are also trying to
share the message of Christ with those they've come to help.
"There is a feeling of
desperation among a lot of the people we've been meeting with and praying
with," Graybeal said. "Many are homeowners who had moved further inland to get
away from the levee system, to where flooding was not a threat."
Some, he said, have been hit
twice, while some have never experienced flooding before.
"It's not the 20-foot surges
that some experienced during Katrina, but water got in their homes and they
have lost possessions."
Chaplains from the Billy
Graham Rapid Response teams are also on location and offering encouragement and
prayer support to the homeowners.
"Within two or three weeks
leading up to Isaac," Graybeal said, "this community was already suffering due
to shooting incidences -- one in which two deputies were killed and two others
Despite those situations, he
said that there was unity, too. "The churches are very strong and are reaching
out into the community. We are blessed to come alongside them and be
encouragers. We are committed to being here as long as we are needed to help
these residents pick up the pieces and get back on their feet."
Graybeal expressed his
appreciation, on behalf of all involved, for the support of the people "back
home" -- "And what you all are doing for us."
Prayer is the greatest need,
he said. "People can simply pray for these who have lost so much."
Volunteering, or by giving financially, are other ways we can help, also.
Samaritan's Purse also sent
a DC-3 plane loaded with supplies to Haiti last week to assist those affected
when Isaac, as a tropical storm, passed though.
"We have staff that's been
working in Haiti since the earthquake hit more than two years ago," Petersen
said. "So, when Isaac made landfall in Haiti, we were able to use staff members
already based there to help in the response efforts."
Currently, staff members are
working to provide clean drinking water in areas where the water source is
unsafe due to flooded wells, she said. "So far, the organization has
decontaminated more than a dozen storm-flooded wells, and providing communities
with water purification tablets."
Earlier this year,
Samaritan's Purse has responded to help victims of tornadoes in North Carolina,
Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky; wildfires in Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma,
and floods in Minnesota, Florida and Tennessee.
Last year, Samaritan's Purse
helped more than 3,200 households affected by storms in 10 states through the
efforts of more than 20,000 volunteers.