Hurricane Laura: Helping Hands volunteers assist in storm’s aftermath

The night Hurricane Laura slammed ashore in southwestern Louisiana, Larry Catron’s daughter woke up feeling uneasy. She normally slept through the night, but tonight, she was afraid.

Though their town of Leesville, Louisiana, is fairly inland — about 120 miles from the coast — and nothing was happening outside at the time, they knew the storm was on its way.

Hurricane Laura continued to plow north through Louisiana after making landfall as a category 4 storm around 1 a.m. on Aug. 27.

Catron’s daughter asked if she could stay in his room, and he agreed. Moments later, a massive oak tree came through the part of their home where her bedroom is.

A photo of the tree that fell on Larry Catron's home as Hurricane Laura made landfall on Thursday, Aug. 27. Catron is a Church member who lives in Leesville, Louisiana.
A photo of the tree that fell on Larry Catron’s home as Hurricane Laura made landfall on Thursday, Aug. 27. Catron is a Church member who lives in Leesville, Louisiana. Credit: W. Clayton Hudgins

“The way Larry told it, was that had she been there, the tree would have landed on her head. It was that close,” said Clay Hudgins, a Latter-day Saint from Jacksonville, Florida, who met Catron while helping with relief training in the area Aug. 29-30.

In the backyard, another big oak tree fell within an inch of their back shed and fifth wheel trailer, Hudgins said. “Because the tree missed it, they were able to stay in the fifth wheel behind the house and not be terribly displaced.”

Hudgins said Catron worked side by side with his brother and a Helping Hands crew from Jackson, Mississippi, to remove the trees from the house and backyard.

“Having the tree off the house that quickly after the storm has opened the door for the restoration to begin as quickly as possible,” Hudgins said.

Catron, a returning member of the Church, was “very heartfelt, very appreciative of all the work that came in,” he added.

Helping Hands volunteers assist with cleanup efforts in Louisiana following Hurricane Laura's landfall on Aug. 27. The hurricane pounded the Texas-Louisiana coast.
Helping Hands volunteers assist with cleanup efforts in Louisiana following Hurricane Laura’s landfall on Aug. 27. The hurricane pounded the Texas-Louisiana coast. Credit: David Sellars

More than 800 Helping Hands volunteers offered time and service Aug. 29-30 to those affected by Hurricane Laura in Louisiana. Larger efforts are expected through the upcoming weekend.

Alexandria Louisiana Stake President Matthew D. DeFord, who spent time volunteering, told local Church communication directors: “Each of us who came here to help has a ‘wound concealed’ like in the hymn ‘A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.’ 

“It may be a weakness, a problem with forgiving or an addiction. As we serve, we forget that wound or pain or ‘smart.’ We all love Jesus Christ, and this weekend as we serve, we have forgotten the smart,” he said.

Ongoing relief

Members of the Orange Texas Stake were among the most affected by the hurricane’s landfall. The Orange Texas Stake includes parts of western Louisiana near the coast, including two wards in Lake Charles, which took the brunt of the damage. The Lake Charles area is expected to be without electricity and water for two to four weeks. 

The region impacted by Hurricane Laura along the Texas-Louisiana coast includes part of the Church's North America Southwest Area and North America Southeast Area.
The region impacted by Hurricane Laura along the Texas-Louisiana coast includes part of the Church’s North America Southwest Area and North America Southeast Area. Credit: Church News graphic

The Orange Texas Stake received a load of emergency response supplies from Church headquarters on Saturday, Aug. 29, including generators, tarps, furring strips, nails, gas cans and chainsaws. 

Lisa Leavitt, the welfare and self-reliance manager for the Church’s North America Southwest Area, said about 125 members on Saturday and 400 on Sunday assisted with cleanup in western Louisiana. Another truckload of supplies was expected Sept. 4, and crews are to continue with larger efforts through the weekend. 

An additional 350 member volunteers assisted with cleanup Aug. 29-30 in other parts of Louisiana affected by the storm, and about 800 are expected for Sept. 5-6 weekend, said Rick Long, the welfare and self-reliance manager for the Church’s North America Southeast Area.

“I continue to be humbled to see many so willing to give freely of themselves to serve,” he said.

Members of the Orange Texas Stake unload a truck of emergency supplies delivered on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. The supplies will help with relief efforts for those impacted by Hurricane Laura.
Members of the Orange Texas Stake unload a truck of emergency supplies delivered on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. The supplies will help with relief efforts for those impacted by Hurricane Laura. Credit: Steve Stotts

Elder Paul B. Pieper, a General Authority Seventy and president of the North America Southwest Area, provided an damage report update on Sept. 2 compiled by local leaders.

Approximately 42 members’ homes in the Orange Texas Stake have been reported damaged and five homes confirmed destroyed. The meetinghouse in Lake Charles was severely damaged, and part of the roof was ripped off. Crews have begun to repair the interior and exterior of the Church building. 

A similar assessment report from Elder James B. Martino, North America Southeast Area president, noted damage to nine members’ homes in the Alexandria Louisiana, Monroe Louisiana and Baton Rouge Louisiana stakes. There is minor damage to four meetinghouses but no damage to the Baton Rouge Louisiana Temple. 

All members and missionaries affected by the storm have been accounted for.

— Aubrey Eyre, Church News reporter, contributed to this article.