NEW ORLEANS, LA (August 23, 2016) — Page Brooks, pastor of Canal Street Covenant Church, recently returned from a week serving as a chaplain with the Louisiana National Guard in flood-ravaged areas and is encouraged by how government, nonprofits, and churches are working together.
Brooks serves as chaplain to one of the largest Guard brigades in the state and oversees the work of four other chaplains. They ministered primarily to 1,200 soldiers spread across the affected areas of Louisiana.
Soldiers rescued thousands of people, conducted search and rescue operations, helped with engineering, distributed food, and provided security at shelters. The experience was overwhelming for some, and the spiritual care provided by the chaplains was important, Brooks said.
Although military members were their primary responsibility, Brooks and his colleagues also ministered to families whose homes had been damaged or destroyed. According to government figures, more than 60,000 homes across 22 parishes were affected. Thirteen people were killed. As of Monday, 102,000 people had applied for federal assistance.
Some of those same families had lost their homes to previous storms such as Hurricane Katrina. “The sights and the smells bring back those feelings of loss and grief,” Brooks said.
For many people, however, the experience was new. “In some areas that flooded, there hadn’t been a flood in 100 or 200 years.”
According to the National Weather Service, four days of rain dumped 7.1 trillion gallons of water on Louisiana. That’s three times the amount dropped during Hurricane Katrina and enough to fill Lake Pontchatrain four times.
Brooks previously had served in the disaster areas left by hurricanes Ike, Gustav, and Isaac. The response by authorities has been far better than previously, he said.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Brooks said.
Several members of his church helped with cleanup last Saturday and will return to the Baton Rouge area again this weekend, Brooks said.
Preventing the growth of mold is one of the biggest challenges because it can make the difference as to whether a home needs to be entirely gutted, Brooks said.
Residents have been grateful for the assistance. Brooks noted that he and another person had stopped to take a break at a restaurant, and someone came by their table and left $40 to pay their bill. Shortly after, someone else came along and took the ticket and was going to pay at the counter. But when the person stepped up to the register, they learned that someone already had left money to cover the cost.
Brooks and his colleague left the $40 as a tip.
Brooks said the area will need the assistance from outside groups for a long time because of the massive area of devastation.
Love Mercy Do Justice as well as Covenant World Relief are partnering with Canal Street in flood relief efforts. Donors can give online to that work.