More than 6,500 volunteers to date from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are assisting with relief efforts in parts of Louisiana damaged by recent record flooding. At least 5,000 additional volunteers are expected to participate this weekend.
Heavy rains of up to 30 inches in a two-day period in mid-August caused widespread flooding and damaged or destroyed more than 60,000 homes, including 450 homes of Latter-day Saints. Some 30,000 residents had to leave their homes, many by boat when the rising waters inundated neighborhoods.
The members and missionaries wearing yellow Mormon Helping Hands shirts have participated in the relief efforts. The volunteers from Louisiana and surrounding states have been helping homeowners remove mud and water, damaged drywall, furniture and other household items.
A special sacrament meeting attended by Louisiana’s governor and the mayor of Baton Rouge was held for volunteers at a Church meetinghouse in Baton Rouge on August 28.
“I want to thank The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. “It really means an awful lot for our community — not just here in Baton Rouge, but all across south Louisiana where we have record rainfall. It was an unnamed storm, but every victim has a name, and they’re all our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
“When you have people come into this great city without putting up any prerequisites for you to go in and help somebody, it’s very special,” said Melvin L. “Kip” Holden, the mayor of Baton Rouge and president of the East Baton Rouge Parish. “And so what we see here today with this great church is reaching out, touching people, making the world better, putting a smile on some faces, and letting people know that there’s still hope.”
“I didn’t know which way to go, what to do,” said Jacqueline Moore of Baton Rouge, who was evacuated from her home in a boat, taking only the clothes on her back and wearing no shoes.
Moore was taken to a shelter, but she’s now back trying to rebuild her home with the assistance of a dozen Mormon Helping Hands. “Very helpful, very helpful. Very good men. You can tell very Christian people.”
“I’m 67 years old, you know, it’s frightful to think about it to start all over. But God is on my side so … I know I’ll make it,” she added.
Water from a canal jumped its banks and destroyed many houses in Edward Griffin’s Baton Rouge neighborhood, including his boyhood home.
Griffin said cleanup efforts have been exhausting. “I just prayed … and then looked and behold, here come a gentleman in a yellow shirt and say he’ll be back to help me in about 30 minutes or so. And lo and behold, to the very second, he came back with … 10, 15, 20, 30 [volunteers] … and they did a tremendous job in helping me.”
In the small community of Gonzales, city hall was lost when seven inches of water swelled through the building, and 120 homes were destroyed by flooding.
“To see the volunteers come out of New Orleans and Houston and Jackson, Mississippi, and all over, it’s just amazing. And it gives you such a warm, good feeling to see that,” said Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux, who expressed confidence his town can rebuild. “To have, you know, all the folks from Latter-day Saints come — I’m just — we feel so blessed and we’re so happy to have you folks down here.”
Two Mormon meetinghouses, the Denham Springs Louisiana Stake center and the Windbourne meetinghouse, were severely damaged by floodwaters from swollen rivers. Flooring, pews, pianos and an organ were destroyed.
The Baton Rouge Louisiana Temple was not damaged by the floodwaters.
“I was touched. I thought they did a wonderful job. It went to show that the Light of Christ is something that permeates a lot of different religions and a lot of different folks,” said Eric Bascom, who has been serving as president of the Church’s Baton Rouge Stake since June. “The Mormon Helping Hands effort is so appropriately named because we are the hands of the Savior during this time.”