March 16, 2022
In Lake Charles, Louisiana, disaster survivors aren’t giving up
Tina Deshotel could have easily given up. After two hurricanes, an ice storm, and a severe flood hit Lake Charles, Louisiana—all of them during the COVID-19 pandemic—her home was in shambles. But her husband, Vernon, worried her even more.
“He gave up on life,” said Deshotel. “He gave up on everything. But I couldn’t give up on him.”
She prayed, asking God to send people to help—and volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) and Disaster Aid Ohio began arriving to rebuild her house.
This answer to her prayers—which took some behind-the-scenes work between MDS and local partner organizations—arrived just in time.
“It truly has been such a blessing from God,” said Deshotel. “My sister and I were able to gut out the house with our sons and my niece. But I was really worried about the mold.”
She also watched her husband sink lower into a depression he couldn’t shake. “He never thought he’d live in this house again,” she said. “We didn’t know what we were going to do.”
The Deshotels have been through a physical and mental disaster recovery that, for people in their city of Lake Charles, has been particularly prolonged.
With a shortage of affordable housing even before Hurricane Laura struck in August 2020, coupled with fears that more severe weather will arrive in coming years, many feel their luck has run out—or that it will as the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season creeps ever closer.
At least half the buildings in Calcasieu Parish, where Lake Charles is located, were damaged in August 2020 by Hurricane Laura, one of the most powerful storms to ever strike the area—and that was only the first of the multiple disasters.
Nearly a year-and-a-half later, many streets are still lined with dumpsters and piles of debris, and many roofs are still patched with blue tarps. Bits of siding still hang from the trees.
But for the Deshotels, recovery had a happy ending.
On Feb. 21, volunteers from MDS and its partner organizations in Lake Charles gathered in the couple’s front yard to dedicate their newly repaired home.
Now shedding tears of joy, the Deshotels thanked the volunteers, many of whom shed a tear right along with them.
“I thank each and every one of the people here today, and every person who has been by our house,” said Vernon Deshotel. “Thank you, God. Thank you, people.”
“No one is too late. The last volunteer that leaves southwest Louisiana will be just as important as the first one who came.”
— Braylon Harris, Coalition coordinator for Southwest Louisiana Responds
MDS project coordinator Phil Helmuth said that MDS’s efforts in Lake Charles have been augmented through working with partner organizations, including the Southern Mutual Help Association, Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana, Southwest Louisiana Responds, and others.
“MDS never moves into a community alone,” said Helmuth.
Monica Broussard, client relations assistant with the Southern Mutual Help Association, thanked Helmuth and all the MDS volunteers for understanding that long-term recovery goes on for years, not just weeks.
“It doesn’t happen overnight, but God is so faithful,” said Broussard. “We’re here to be servants.”
As MDS volunteers continue their work in southwest Louisiana, residents often express surprise that someone cares about them, reflected Sara Judson, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana.
“What we like to say is that we connect people who care with causes that matter,” she said. “MDS cares. We are so honored and blessed that you have taken the time to come to our communities.”
In the scope of such massive damage, the work of MDS—one house at a time—matters, said Braylon Harris, coalition coordinator for Southwest Louisiana Responds.
In Harris’s eyes, every home and every person is important. That’s why he’s so grateful for MDS, which he said brings quality work combined with the ability and willingness to work well in partnership with other groups.
“We can go to bed at night confident in one thing: people in Lake Charles got the excellence that every human being deserves because, with MDS, there is no doubt that it will be rebuilt and it will be rebuilt right,” he said.
“The point for Southwest Louisiana Responds is to be the glue—any way that we can lay the rails and grease the tracks for national organizations like MDS to come in, we will.”
He estimates some 20,000 people in Lake Charles are still displaced. “The scope of the work is so much broader than any individual can do,” he said. “It’s a significant challenge.”
As Harris drove through a section of Lake Charles close to the Deshotel’s home, he saw the work yet to be done. “There are streets where 50 or 60 percent of the houses on the street haven’t been touched since the last flood,” he said.
He wants MDS volunteers to keep coming.
“No one is too late,” he said. “The last volunteer that leaves southwest Louisiana will be just as important as the first one who came.”
Susan Kim, MDS writer