Samaritan’s Purse teams are helping homeowners in New Orleans East after an early February tornado. More volunteers are needed.
In 2010, five years after Hurricane Katrina thrashed the Gulf Coast, the repairs on Shirley Payton’s house in New Orleans were completed and she finally moved back home.
But all it took was a few minutes for an EF3 tornado to undo those years of toil, frustration, and perseverance.
“Everything that was done then is gone,” Shirley said. “I’ve cried for days. I can’t cry anymore.”
Shirley’s home was one of nearly 700 damaged or destroyed last week when a rare and powerful tornado touched down in New Orleans. It ripped apart homes across New Orleans East, a neighborhood in the Ninth Ward that’s still battered and scarred from Hurricane Katrina.SIGN UP TO VOLUNTEER
Samaritan’s Purse volunteers in New Orleans East are clearing debris, covering roofs with tarps, and cutting up fallen trees and limbs. Our volunteers serve in Jesus’ Name, sharing the love of Jesus Christ with homeowners and the community.
Our host church for this deployment is Household of Faith, where yesterday Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards attended worship and thanked the congregation for serving the community in the storm’s aftermath. He asked people to continue praying for those in the Crescent City affected by the tornado.
“While we’re offering prayers of petition, don’t forget the prayer of thanksgiving, because nobody’s life was lost,” he said. “In the most powerful tornado ever to hit New Orleans, the Lord was there, protecting everyone.”
The governor also acknowledged the work of Samaritan’s Purse. “Thank ya’ll very much for being here,” he said. “God bless you.”
‘This is Home’
When volunteers showed up at her house just a few days after the tornado, Shirley exclaimed, “It’s a miracle. God is good.”
Shirley and her husband are staying at a nearby shelter since the tornado carried away their roof, flattened walls, and piled debris in and outside the home.
Shirley’s faith didn’t waver when Hurricane Katrina poured so much water into her home that the entire structure had to be gutted and all her possessions were destroyed. Although she’s looking down another long road to recovery, she is trusting God will provide.
A few houses down from Shirley lives Benny Pritchett. Benny had just returned from the grocery store when he heard what sounded like a mighty train barreling through his home.
“I’ve never been that afraid,” he said. “There was no warning. It happened all of a sudden.”
When the storm passed, Benny couldn’t believe all the debris littered across his yard. A concrete slab in front of his home where a garage once sat was empty. The walls were completely gone, and the only evidence of the former structure were a few odds and ends scattered in the yard.
Benny pointed down the street about three houses over where a white SUV was parked with shattered windows. Pieces of his garage had been hurled down the street and busted through the glass.
Like Shirley, and the entire neighborhood, Benny’s house also took a beating from Hurricane Katrina. “We had several feet of water and mold had run all the way up the wall,” he said. “I had several rental properties and they were all destroyed.”
As painful as it is for Benny to see his home in disarray once again, he isn’t giving up. “This is home,” he said.
He thought the tornado clean up would be too much for him to handle, even with help from his children, so he prayed to God for help. God delivered a group of orange-clad workers.
“It’s amazing how fast ya’ll got here. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do,” Benny said. “God sent Samaritan’s Purse at a time when I really, really needed some help.”
A Grateful Heart
About two miles from Shirley and Benny’s neighborhood, Janie Blackmon hunkered down in her bathroom and lived her own moments of terror as the twister roared overhead.
“I will never forget [the tornado] as long as I live,” she said. “It sounded like the house was going to fall apart.”
Our volunteers covered the roof with a tarp and removed pile after pile of debris from the yard. Janie’s car and her husband’s car were both destroyed.
Seeing house after house in their neighborhood damaged is almost surreal for the Blackmons, who also lived through the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina. The storm dumped seven feet of water into their house, and it was two years before they moved back.
Despite two devastating storms and the death of her son-in-law to brain cancer in between, Janie remains grateful for God’s love and protection for her. “God was merciful and gracious. I thank Him,” she said.
Janie attends Household of Faith, where the current sermon series is “Above and Beyond,” based on Ephesians 3:20: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.”
Janie says she is taking the sermons to heart. She’s trusting God to do a mighty work throughout New Orleans in the midst of tragedy. She has already experienced God working through the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers who served at her home.
“I was blessed they came. The volunteers are awesome,” she said. “When they started praying you could feel the presence of God.”
Moved to Action
Samaritan’s Purse volunteer Mary Goodwin couldn’t sit at home when disaster came for her hometown. Mary lives about 20 minutes from where the tornado hit. Her dad’s business, although in the middle of the storm’s path, was spared.
“This could have been me,” Mary said. “I look at every face, at every house—this could have been me.”Mary’s first experience volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse came last summer after floodwaters ravaged south Louisiana. She served several times in just a few weeks in the East Baton Rouge area.
Mary, who has worked for the local sheriff’s department 27 years, came out to volunteer again in New Orleans East to encourage people who have already endured so much because of Hurricane Katrina.
“I was here during Katrina and there was nothing. You couldn’t get in, you couldn’t get out,” she said. “I remember not hearing any noise. It was just silence.”
Mary said she is grateful to have met homeowners like Shirley, Benny, and Janie. Their resilience and determination to press on in the face of devastation is inspiring.
“[Volunteering] gives me purpose,” Mary said. “I’ve been so blessed just by meeting people.”
Many more volunteers are needed in New Orleans. Visit SP Volunteer Network to volunteer.