Disaster ReBuilders hit the ground running in Louisiana and are ready for volunteers

(Photo: Louisiana National Guard soldiers assess damage in Lake Charles after Hurricane Laura.)

Disaster ReBuilders hit the ground running in Louisiana and are ready for volunteers

The dichotomy of the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders is that they are grateful to be of service but wish their services were not needed. Unfortunately for families in Texas, North Carolina and Florida, the Disaster ReBuilders’ efforts have been desperately needed over the past few years.

Now, just two weeks after Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana as strong Category 4 storm, the Disaster ReBuilders’ help is desperately needed again.

Fortunately, the Disaster ReBuilders have been working on and off in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and most recently worked in the state after two historic floods wreaked havoc in 2016. Because of their experience in the area and the connections they have made through the years, they have been able to hit the ground running. In fact, they already are ready to welcome volunteers to their base of operations in the Longville-Ragley area, just north of hard-hit Lake Charles. They also have established a long-term church partner with Celebration Worship Center in Sulphur, just west of Lake Charles.

“This is the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders’ fifth foray into Louisiana, and the relationships they’ve built through the years have given them a jump start,” Fuller Center President David Snell said. “As soon as Hurricane Laura passed through Lake Charles, Louisiana, the ReBuilders were on the ground, figuring out how they could help get people back into their devastated homes.”

Bart Tucker

Disaster ReBuilders President Bart Tucker said devastation is widespread and that Laura caused significant damage to southwest Louisiana’s power grid.

“Every hurricane disaster area is different, and Laura is one of the worst,” said Tucker, a retired Air Force colonel who sprung quickly into duty once again with several other Disaster ReBuilders leaders and volunteers, including Tamara and David Danel, long-time leaders with the Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center in Hammond, Louisiana, a three-hour drive east. “Not only is it the 10th most powerful hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. ever, but the damage electrical power distribution damage dramatically slows the recovery. Combined with extreme heat and humidity, the impact on the most vulnerable is particularly severe. Projections are six to eight weeks before power is fully restored.”

Tucker hopes that many of the residents will be able to rebuild with the help of their insurance plans or other traditional assistance, but experience tells him there will be plenty of families still in need — for years to come.

“Those we low-income folks we serve are the hardest hit by any storm, and they are the last to recover,” he said. “So, yes, I do believe this will be a three-to-five-year recovery for them. Because the damage is mostly wind not flood, we can expect many families to receive insurance support. But there will be a significant number of homeowners who do not have wind insurance and so will not be covered.”

“Heartbreaking” homecoming

Also on the scene two weeks ago were Toni and Aaron Ratliff. The couple met in 2016 while helping Louisiana flood victims through their efforts with the Cajun Army. They then married while leading Disaster ReBuilders work in the Galveston, Texas, area. Since then, they have led recovery efforts in New Bern, N.C., and Panama City, Fla. Their next stop will be in the Longville-Ragley area to help lead Laura recovery.

Aaron and Toni Ratliff outside a Disaster ReBuilders project in North Carolina in 2019.

“It’s actually heartbreaking. Even after Rita, it wasn’t like this,” said Toni, who grew up in Oakdale, about an hour from both Longville and Lake Charles. “There wasn’t as much destruction as there is in Lake Charles. It was heartbreaking because every block of the whole city and the surrounding area is affected. Everywhere you’d go, there were power lines down all over the road and trees down everywhere. Even further north toward where I’m from, my brother is losing his house. They can’t save it, but at least he’s insured.”

She praised the efforts of everyone who has worked to restore water supplies and those who are continuing to repair massive damage to the power structure.

“When we left, there was still no electricity in a lot of areas,” Toni said. “The linemen are working 24/7 to try to get power restored. They have heat-related deaths now. We couldn’t access some of these neighborhoods at first, but when we were able to drive through them, you’d see these people sitting out there on their porch trying to stay cool.”

The Disaster ReBuilders are seeking volunteers immediately to work in Louisiana, though online registration is not yet available. Tucker said that interested volunteers can contact volunteer coordinator Lyn Wilson at 346-763-7499 or email disaster-rebuilders@fullercenter.org. Those interested in volunteering can keep up with the latest Disaster ReBuilders developments on their webpage and are encouraged to follow the Disaster ReBuilders on Facebook.

“Much as the post office carries on through sleet and snow and heat, the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders just keep on going, but in their case it’s neither hurricane nor flood nor pandemic that deters them from their work,” President Snell said. “They’re ready to start taking volunteers, although the accommodations will be a little spartan in these early days. If you’re looking for an uplifting experience after these months of gloom, consider volunteering to help a family restore its home.”

Meanwhile, Tucker and his colleagues hope they can focus on recovery without wondering what is coming next from this ultra-busy hurricane season.

“We’re all concerned with high Gulf and Atlantic temperatures,” he said. “With another month of high risk, it’s no time to relax.”

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