Hurricane Laura: Members, missionaries near Texas-Louisiana border safe after early assessments

Hurricane Laura pounded the Texas-Louisiana border early Thursday morning, Aug. 27, with torrential rain and wind speeds of 150 mph — one of the strongest hurricanes ever to strike the United States. The storm is now moving north through Louisiana.

In its initial landfall, the category 4 hurricane affected 5,000 Church members living in the Beaumont Texas Stake and Orange Texas Stake. The Orange Texas Stake includes parts of western Louisiana near the coast.

“Members in those stakes and 71 missionaries in the Texas Houston East Mission were evacuated on Tuesday and Wednesday ahead of the storm. We are receiving preliminary reports of damage,” wrote Elder Paul B. Pieper, a General Authority Seventy and president of the North America Southwest Area, via email to the Church News late Thursday morning. 

“Because the storm shifted east and is fast moving, it appears that most of the damage is from the high winds,” he continued. “Flooding does not appear to be as significant as in past storms.”

Debris is seen near a business on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Lake Charles, La., in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Debris is seen near a business on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Lake Charles, La., in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Credit: AP

Elder Pieper said the Houston-area stakes are well-trained and experienced in responding to storm damage. “They will activate work crews as needed to support clean-up as soon as assessments can be made and conditions permit clean-up to safely begin. Area Seventies in Houston are coordinating with those in Louisiana to provide support there as may be needed.”

Elder James B. Martino, North America Southeast Area president, reported all missionaries are safe in the parts of Louisiana that are in his area — including the Alexandria Louisiana Stake just north of Lake Charles.

“We have a Church truck in route from Atlanta to have a command center ready for this weekend in Leesville, Louisiana,” he wrote in an email. “The worst of the damage is along the Texas and Louisiana border, and so we will have supplies there and be prepared to get out and work to help the people beginning this weekend.”

Lake Charles

Lake Charles, Louisiana, an industrial city with a population of about 80,000, likely took the brunt of the damage, according to the Associated Press. More than 700,000 homes and businesses are currently without power in the two states, according to the website PowerOutage.Us, which tracks utility reports.

Lake Charles, Louisiana, as shown on the map, is located in the southwest corner of Louisiana near the Gulf Coast. Beaumont, Texas, about 60 miles west, was another area hit by Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27, 2020.
Lake Charles, Louisiana, as shown on the map, is located in the southwest corner of Louisiana near the Gulf Coast. Beaumont, Texas, about 60 miles west, was another area hit by Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27, 2020. Credit: Google Maps

There are two Latter-day Saint wards in Lake Charles, which belong to the Orange Texas Stake. President Daniel L. Harris said so far, “we have seen a lot of blessings,” but assessment is still underway. He believes about 80-90% of members in his stake evacuated.

“It’s just a small percentage reporting from Lake Charles right now because the roads are closed, you can’t get in,” he said. “They’re having a hard time even calling out to us (due to damaged cell towers).”

President Harris told the Church News he knows of 12 families in Lake Charles who didn’t evacuate, and priesthood leaders have been able to make contact with three of them so far. Of those three households, “everybody is safe, and their property has been spared as well.” 

A woman passes on a street near businesses on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in downtown Lake Charles, La., in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A woman passes on a street near businesses on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in downtown Lake Charles, La., in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Credit: AP

The meetinghouse in Orange, Texas, has minor damage, and he is still waiting to hear a report on the buildings in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Jennings, Louisiana — “those are the two we’re the most worried about.”

“This is the third (major) storm that has affected us in the last three years,” said President Harris, noting Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Imelda in 2019. “We lost a lot of homes from floods and such from those two storms. This storm, we were really worried about it, but I don’t believe it’s going to be near as damaging as those previous ones.”

“We appreciate everybody’s prayers and they worked. So far, we’re seeing nothing but best case scenario amongst our Saints, and we pray it stays that way.”

Beaumont and Port Arthur

Across the border from Lake Charles, Port Arthur, Texas, was another hard-hit area. President Matthew B. Peterson, first counselor in the Beaumont Texas Stake, said he is aware of power outages, but no major damage has been reported yet near the coast. 

“It looks like the chapels are all doing well. There are some areas that I haven’t heard about, but the reports I’ve seen so far everything’s looking good.”

Port Arthur firefighters stare at a sea wall at sunset as they wait for Hurricane Laura to make landfall, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Port Arthur, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Port Arthur firefighters stare at a sea wall at sunset as they wait for Hurricane Laura to make landfall, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Port Arthur, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) Credit: AP

Kimball Ostergaard, a Latter-day Saint who lives in northwest Beaumont, evacuated to Dallas with his family on Tuesday. He works as a chemical engineer at an oil refinery in Port Arthur. 

“We currently think that the situation is really good actually. It looks like we’ve got power. We think that there’s limited damage, but we haven’t seen it yet,” he said. “I think we had very little effect in our area, which is wonderful.”

As a member of the elders quorum presidency in the Beaumont 6th Ward, he has been helping to contact fellow ward members this morning. Most evacuated, but he knows of a few families who stayed. 

“Everyone that we’ve contacted so far has been OK,” he said.