Even before Hurricane Gustav rolled over parts of Cajun country, Christian aid groups were rolling to the rescue. A convoy of two disaster relief trucks, plus other support vehicles, departed from Samaritan's Purse headquarters in North Carolina on Monday. Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham prayed with the group before they left, saying, "Be the hands and feet of Jesus."
Gustav may have bounced off New Orleans, but it lashed low-lying rural parishes along Louisiana's southeastern and central coast. Partnering with the network of local churches involved in its annual Operation Christmas Child event, Samaritan's Purse will begin on Tuesday making damage assessments in the hardest hit storm areas.
"Our teams are looking to help the people who can least help themselves," said Tom Layton, a spokesperson for the organization. "The poor, the elderly, the uninsured-we're looking to see how we can help them rebuild."
Relief teams from World Vision have begun delivering aid to storm victims who were already rebuilding along Mississippi's Gulf coast when Gustav hit. These new storm victims "hadn't been able to finish repairing their homes from Katrina," said the aid group's spokesperson Rachel Wolff. The group is "working the phones," she added, to connect victims with local church volunteers who can help repair the latest damage.
World Vision also is distributing relief at evacuation locations in Dallas and in Jackson, Miss. "In Jackson there are folks who came in who did have significant needs," Wolff said, adding that the most pressing need was for baby items, such as diapers and formula. "Families, when they packed up a car to evacuate, could only carry so many diapers and so much formula, so they were running out pretty quickly," she said.
Meanwhile, storm fallout continues to batter southwestern Louisiana. In the town of Baker, a suburb of Baton Rouge, about 250 evacuees are taking shelter in the sanctuary of Miracle Place, a church located in a strip mall. Gustav had already damaged the roof in another part of the mall. Then Tuesday, at about 11:30 a.m. Central Time, a tornado struck the mall, ripping away the building's air conditioning units.
But the evacuees are safe, said Jody Herrington, director of U.S. disaster relief for Operation Blessing International, who received news of the tornado by cell phone. And help is already on the way: Before Gustav hit, OBI had pre-staged in Baton Rouge a semi-truck loaded with 43,000 pounds of relief supplies. A local church was scheduled to deliver the aid to the evacuees at Miracle Place later Tuesday.