Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Letter from September 4th, 2012

Well hello there! 

What a week it has been for us here in Slidell. Hurricane Issac was an unpredictable storm, that's for sure. No one expected the damage that it caused. The odd thing is that some areas of town escaped unscathed and some were at flooding levels equivalent to Katrina. Crazy. 

I will start at the beginning of the story so you can get the whole picture - All the way to Tuesday the mission leadership told us that we were to stay put in our apartment for the duration of the storm, so we just went about helping people get ready for the storm. We were helping some members who own a jewelery store to clear out all of their goods in case of flooding when we got a cal telling us to get back to our apartment, pack up anything we cared about, and get to the bishops storehouse where we would be staying until further notice. So we did as told and made our way up to the storehouse with all of our valuables and clothing for a couple of days. Immediately we went to work inventorying all of the emergency supplies that the church had on hand with the Elders Quorum President, and boy, it sure was a ton. They have the supplies to clean houses, gut houses, cover holes in roofs, tents, cots, clothing, and emergency food. Hundreds and hundreds of each item. After that we were handed a cot and sent off to a room to sleep as the storm began to hit. 

The beautiful thing about staying at the bishop's storehouse is the fact that we had unlimited food, and let me tell you, the church's granola is amazing. :) And the applesauce. And the beef stew. And everything else. We sure do take care of people. Working with all of these supplies and seeing how the church was involved in coordinating supplies and making sure everything was taken care of has definitely helped me to gain a testimony of the welfare system of the church. Daily the representative of the church was on the phone with members of the seventy and area authorities to coordinate efforts and receive updates. Within 24 hours of the storm's departure, trucks arrived with more supplies. Holy cow. Without a doubt, it is an inspired program. 

But from where we were in the city, the storm was kinda a bummer. Nothing that I haven't experienced before. The problem was the fact that it slowed down significantly when it came over Slidell, allowing for water to accumulate and therefore cause flooding. However, I will say that I was sent outside to get something during the storm and the wind gusts did stop me dead in my tracks haha. 

Don't believe the news is one of the greatest things I learned from this experience. National outlets were exaggerating things beyond belief. They made it sound like Slidell was a battle zone that was completely under water. Only parts were. And no, the whole city was not ordered to evacuate. However, Old Towne was, which is where our apartment is. Bayou Bonfouca, which is right across the levee/railroad tracks from us, picked up so much water that it overflowed the levee and caused water to rush into our part of town. Our complex was flooded 9-12 inches, but since we are on the second floor, everything was fine with our apartment. The only we lost was all of our perishable food because the power was out. :/ It was crazy because we drove up to the beginning of Old Towne the day the storm passed and saw submerged cars and people canoeing across streets in areas that we tracted just weeks earlier. 

The big problem was that the Bayou is right next to the sewage plant, and so when that flooded, sewage was mixed in with all of the water that flooded us, leaving the area smelling suspiciously awful. And, there is a drinking water advisory, so we have to boil any water we use for drinking/cooking. How lovely. 

Our area had the section of town that was hit the worst - Palm Lake. The Bayou that overflowed runs straight into a little lake that is next to an area that is way below sea level, and when it rose, it caused 4 to 6 feet of flooding in all the homes. Driving our bikes down the street (which is a story in and of itself - the neighborhood is protected by police and the national guard. Thank heavens we are recognized as ministers) was such a heart-wrenching experience. Every single house had a massive pile of things out on the curb that were ruined beyond repair. Appliances  furniture, Sheetrock, flooring, clothing, and basically everything. An investigator there in the area tearfully told us that she lost everything again, and that she couldn't do it again after Katrina. Homes are completely gutted through there. Seeing that much devastation and suffering is something that will forever remain vivid in my memory - you can't fully understand it until you experience it yourself. 

But we have had a few opportunities to help others in their efforts to recover from the storm (we were only able to return to our apartment Saturday night). We have helped a couple of less active members gut houses and businesses effected by the storm. Everywhere we go we have offered service to others, and they appreciate the offer. It is difficult to try and return to normal missionary work when the people around you are suffering, and so we will continue to look for any way to help. FEMA has their command center set up right across the street from us, so maybe we can find people there that need some assistance. Church was an interesting experience because we only had sacrament meeting and then assessed the known needs of the ward and assembled a plan on how the members could help in the recovery efforts. It was an amazing thing to see - members stepping up and sacrificing of themselves to help others. 

I wish that I could have filmed the whole week that I just experienced, because there are so many little stories that I wish I could share. For example, the military patrolled our apartment complex with fully loaded assault rifles because of looting. Things like that can't fully be communicated through writing. Even the stories that I have shared have even greater depth. Issac has provided us with quite a few opportunities to realize how blessed we truly are to have the gospel and the church in our lives. Without it, we'd be lost and in great despair. I know without a doubt that despite the great suffering that many here in Slidell are experiencing, they can find greater hope for the future and joy in the present by turning to the Lord and inviting him more fully into their lives. The church is true and the book is blue!!

Elder Thomas

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