Church In Southern Louisiana Provides Shelter After Massive Floods

Aug 24, 2016
Originally published on August 24, 2016 6:23 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In Baton Rouge, the presidential motorcade has left. Donald Trump's entourage is long gone. Floodwaters are receding, and the sun is shining again. Now, the hard work begins. Streets are lined with piles of moldy carpets and furniture stretching for miles. More than 100,000 people have applied for disaster relief. Our co-host Ari Shapiro is there in Baton Rouge to find out how this community will clean up and move forward. He joins us now from a church that has also been serving as a shelter. Hi there, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So tell us about what you're seeing.

SHAPIRO: Well, this is Christ Community Church. And it sits in the middle of almost an island of ruin. The pastor's wife told me about 90 percent of the homes here were damaged. Ten days ago when flooding was at its worst, 750 people slept in the sanctuary here along with more than 100 pets. Today, only a couple dozen people are sleeping here. A lot of people have gone back to their gutted homes. And they're coming here every day for supplies that they need to survive. So the church has kind of become a distribution center for people to get cleaning supplies and water and food.

I met this man named Chris Warren who was pushing a shopping cart full of bleach and towels that he had just picked up. I asked him how long he thinks it'll take to get back to normal - weeks or months? And here's what he told me.

CHRIS WARREN: It's going to take a few years just to get it back to the norm. The scale of the damage is so widespread. It's going to take a few years before everybody can look back and just look at it as a distant memory, that's for sure.

SHAPIRO: What's it like to be able to come here and say, we need cleaning supplies, and get a cart full cleaning supplies?

WARREN: I was actually quite surprised. Half these people aren't even from here. They're from other states, that are coming here just to give us a hand. And it's really nice because there's a lot of people that can't go to work, that've lost all their vehicles, that are stuck with no kind of revenue whatsoever. So places like this help those people.

MCEVERS: I mean he's talking about people coming from other states. Who's organizing this whole relief effort?

SHAPIRO: You know, of course there are state and local government agencies, there are NGOs. Here at this church, it is profoundly grassroots and very ad hoc. There are local restaurants that are handing out food. We met one woman who lives a couple hours away. And she told us she was hit really hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but made it fine through this storm. So every day, she drives a huge trailer full of donations up to this church parking lot from where she lives.

MCEVERS: Wow.

SHAPIRO: And a lot of the volunteers here are also people who are in need themselves, like this woman, Lindy Eisenberg. Her husband is a deacon at the church. They got flooded out of their home. Each of them has a day job. And their employers said, look, you do what you need to do. And they've been volunteering here ever since. I asked her to show me around.

LINDY EISENBERG: This is where we are serving - as long as we've got it - prepared food. All of this prepared food is being donated either by local restaurants or - we just had a couple of stay-at-home moms who brought in 200 sandwiches. And what we do is either we serve it here as folks are coming in to get supplies or we actually just load them up in our vehicles, and we take it out to some of the neighborhoods where people are working.

SHAPIRO: Any idea how many meals a day?

EISENBERG: Oh, my goodness. I would say it's easily in the thousands.

SHAPIRO: So what's it been like day-by-day here?

EISENBERG: Very busy. Last week, we were pretty much 'round the clock. There were people who needed medical attention. And we actually had a doctor who just so happened to be traveling through town on his way to Disney World with his family from Houston. And they got stuck here. He was like - it was a godsend because we had folks that were diabetics and either didn't have or were low on their insulin. So I mean I'm in the mortgage business. And I was playing a nurse's assistant with zero medical training.

MCEVERS: As we think about this flood in Louisiana, how does it compare to other natural disasters that have happened here in the U.S.?

SHAPIRO: You know, the scale is still being measured. But this could be the largest such natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy hit. And Louisiana is much poorer than New York. Many of the people who were hit here didn't have flood insurance, and that's because it hit an area that is not considered flood-prone.

You know, I said to somebody, at least the people who were hit by Katrina had a name to call it - I suffered through Katrina. What do you call it? He said, I call it the thousand year storm because a year's worth of water in a couple of days is just not something this country ever sees.

MCEVERS: That's our co-host Ari Shapiro in Baton Rouge, La. Thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.