On August 27th, Hurricane Laura battered the US Gulf coast, particularly the state of Louisiana. It was a category 4 hurricane that had sustained winds of 150 mph. The devastation caused by the hurricane is a massive 8.7 billion dollars in the United States alone. After getting a go ahead from local authorities that it was safe to come into the affected areas and support aid and restoration, the team decided to visit Lake Charles, LA, a major city in Louisiana that bore the brunt of the hurricane. This visit was planned for September 5th, a full week after the hurricane. The scenes that were witnessed by the team were truly humbling. The impact caused by the blunt force of nature was clearly evident. The city did not have power, shops were all closed and many were damaged, and professional crews were still working on restoring the infrastructure. Some residents had returned and were putting the pieces of their lives back together. It was heart wrenching to see houses crushed under fallen trees and cars crushed by debris. Thankfully the loss of life was minimal as the early warning system worked quite well.
The Humanity First USA volunteer team of twenty five members came into the city with over 2500 water bottles, and food items for 70 families. Food items included baby food, canned vegetables, ramen noodles, apples, bananas, bread, and peanut butter. This food was distributed to the people who had returned to the city but were without provisions. The team had taken all necessary precautions due to Covid-19, making sure everyone wore masks and gloves during the restoration effort. This made for a special challenge as the work was performed in 90+ degree weather. A forward team had already visited Lake Charles and collected information from members of the community that needed help. This included people who were disabled, people with small children, and some who were not yet able to return home. The Humanity First USA team split into 5-6-member sub-teams and were given a list of community members to contact. Each member was then contacted and scheduled for a visit by the Humanity First USA volunteers. The clean-up work consisted of removing fallen trees, cleaning up yards, moving heavy debris to the trash collection zones, and helping members of the community repair their homes. A total of 330 hours were spent in this effort.
Several members of the community approached team members that were wearing Humanity First USA vests and applauded the effort of the team and the charity for organizing the volunteer effort. Other members of the community thanked the team when they collected the food items as well. Even people who were not back at their houses yet and had requested help heaped praise on the volunteers for coming out to help the community in their time of need. Mr. Brewer whose yard was cleared of the debris said: “Thanks very much to you and your volunteers! I appreciate your efforts a great deal.” Another community member, Ms. Sullivan said she didn’t know what she would have done had we not shown up to clean her back yard as a lot of the things blown in there were very heavy and didn’t even belong to her. She was also very appreciative of the food and water that was dropped off for her.
While this was a successful trip organized by Humanity First USA leadership in an effort to help the victims of Hurricane Laura, it seemed like a drop in the bucket for the type of work that will ultimately be required to restore the community and the city. It was clearly visible that it will take months for the community to get back on track. That being said, the appreciation of the residents, and the sentiments echoed by people who realized that we were one of the few volunteer teams on ground offering assistance more than made up for the efforts put in by volunteers. Bonds were forged, smiles were exchanged, and hope was shared as the Humanity First volunteers helped residents put the pieces of their lives back together, making everyone realize that the road to recovery may be slow, but any obstacle can be overcome if we all work together.