Louisiana is no stranger to rain. Flooding is common in the low-lying bayous, and hurricane season can mean a knock-out punch for the area. In August of 2016, Denham Springs was hit with catastrophic, record floods, the worst disaster in the area since Hurricane Sandy.
Called a “1,000 year flood” because statistically, a flood of this degree has only a .001% chance of occurrence in a year, the water killed 13, left 90% of area homes underwater, and destroyed most businesses.
Sister Donna Phenald of the Denham Springs Stake does her best to express the inexpressible: “The water is indescribable. It is contaminated from sewer, garbage, debris . . . the smell is atrocious. The insects are everywhere. Mold sets in within hours to days. . . . The temperatures were unbearable, the humidity was high.”
Phenald describes families being moved from shelter to shelter, mothers lacking the basic necessities to care for their infant children, and children unable to attend school for weeks.
The toll, she says, is ongoing: “I heard of people getting sick from being in and around their flooded homes. Upset stomach. Coughs. Depression. Anxiety. Those of us with allergies were sick most of the time.”
The flood made headlines for a few weeks as graphic pictures of debris piles, unearthed coffins and submerged cars grabbed national attention. But once the media left, residents still had to pick up the pieces.
Of the approximately 300 families in the Denham Springs Stake, most lacked flood insurance, Phenald says. Many are still displaced.
Even now, several months out, rebuilding is slow. The Denham Springs Stake Center isn’t scheduled to reopen until spring of 2017. Phenald cites a litany of issues that impede rebuilding: waiting on a contractor or building materials, waiting for funds to clear from insurance or mortgage companies, waiting on government inspections to determine whether or not a home is salvageable.
“Many are just doing what they can day to day,” Phenald says.
In spite of the destruction, Phenald sees the Lord’s blessings. The flood has brought the community together in service and in prayer, and enabled them to help one another. Their prayers have been answered, she says, “mostly through other people.”
Sister Shannon Vehar is one of those “other people.” A member of the Goodyear Stake, she and another member, Brother Dave Ketcham, separately felt prompted to coordinate a service project because of personal connections they had to the area, and the donations began rolling in.
Before the relief effort, “I had not even heard of Goodyear,” jokes Sister Phenald.
But members in Goodyear had heard of Denham Springs, and they were ready to serve.
Stake members purchased small kitchen appliances, pots and pans, bed linens and towels, and storage containers and shipped them to flood victims. The stake is also sending gently used furniture and larger appliances, to be generously carried by Knight Transportation to Louisiana.
The enormousness of such a disaster might make helping a daunting prospect, but Sister Vehar has learned that “if you just start somewhere and ask for Heavenly Father’s help, He will guide your efforts to help His children and that your smallest efforts will be magnified more than you ever imagined possible.” Both she and Sister Phenald feel humbled and grateful for the opportunity to serve and for the service of others.
Relief efforts are ongoing. Please visit http://www.signupgenius.com/go/10C0E4BABA72AA0FA7-immediate and http://www.lafrp.com/ for more information about how to help.