Editor’s Note: Narayne is a member in Louisiana who is reporting here her first-hand experience. We invite other members living in the areas affected by Katrina to send in any information or updates that they on the aftermath of the disaster.
For all those of you who have inquired about the situation here in Louisiana following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina last week, I thought I would take a few minutes to fill you in on some of the happenings that may not have made the news in your area.
I live in Alexandria, Louisiana, which is centrally located within the state and is about 175 miles N-NW of New Orleans. Our stake center is currently housing some 200+ evacuees, mostly from the New Orleans area. Since our regular sacrament meeting attendance is usually between 125 and 150, you can imagine how full our chapel was yesterday.
We were told that the only meeting we will hold on Sundays, until further notice, is sacrament meeting. Our classrooms are full of families, and it is so sad to pass by each door and see the family’s name posted on the particular door and realize that whole families are living in small classrooms, with all they have to their names with them in that small, confined space.
Since many of the evacuees are Hispanic, one sweet sister stood by a member of our bishopric yesterday and interpreted for him during the announcements. We had a beautiful testimony meeting, which ran longer than usual as we were also graced to be able to hear from President Conlin, the New Orleans Stake President, who filled us in on the conditions in New Orleans.
All members have not yet been accounted for, but they are trying to locate and learn of their conditions. The New Orleans stake center has been heavily damaged by water. One sister from elsewhere didn’t seem to believe me when I shared this information late last week and felt the need to “correct” my misinformation as the Church website said they could only “confirm” damage to one building. They had not yet been able to get to the other buildings and assess the damage at that time. However, I had seen, on the news, a section of I-10 leading into New Orleans, which happens to be the same location where the New Orleans stake center is located, so when I saw the depth of the water there, I knew the building had to be heavily damaged.
President Conlin said that there is another building within their stake that also has a great deal of flooding. He also stated that the Algiers chapel sustained heavy wind damage and that it would be a “long time” before that building would be useable again. Finally, there is no word on the chapel in Slidell, but much of that community, which is located just north of New Orleans, is 15 feet under water, and some who have been able to get back and check their homes say they have four to six feel of mud in their homes, so I would imagine that building probably suffered a good bit, as well.
I was able to drive down to Baton Rouge on Friday night so my son could receive his endowments in the Baton Rouge Temple on Saturday morning, along with another girl from our ward who was getting married that same morning. The temple opened up just for that wedding so this sweet young couple from our ward could be married. They were running a “skeleton crew” as many of their workers were still without power, so the Saturday morning session was the only one they held all week.
As I drove down to Baton Rouge, I was overcome with emotion as I was met, mile after mile after mile, with charter buses and school buses full of evacuees, plus numerous emergency vehicles, including ambulances and various police.
School was closed all over Louisiana on Friday as our governor had ordered all school buses to New Orleans to assist with the evacuation efforts. Our stake president, who drove down on Saturday morning for the wedding, said he passed about a two-mile long convoy of military vehicles, fully loaded with all sorts of combat equipment and ammunition, apparently headed to New Orleansin an attempt to settle the major unrest by some of those who refuse to leave.
The gas prices fluctuated on the way into Baton Rouge, but once I arrived there, it was apparent that many stations did not have gas at all. You could tell which stations still had fuel as there were long lines waiting to fill up.
Electronic signs as you enter Baton Rouge direct people to various emergency numbers for FEMA, food and shelter, food stamps, etc., and also inform that all roads leading into New Orleans are closed.
Even though Baton Rouge did not bear the brunt of the hurricane, there were over 200 downed trees in the area, plus much debris, the evidence of which was strewn down every street I traveled. I saw many roofs that had been damaged, and there were portions of fences down everywhere I looked. A large portion of Baton Rouge was without power until Friday.
Since the New Orleans gangs have had to relocate, Baton Rouge has had to step up their security. Most stores that normally are open 24 hours are closing at 10:00, many of the fast food restaurants lock their doors at dark and only allow drive-through service.
Louisiana State University, which is being used for triage and housing, sent out emails to all their faculty and students last Thursday stating that the school was in lockdown and that no one was to leave the campus without notifying Campus Security for an escort off the campus.
All government offices in downtown Baton Rouge were closed last Thursday as an act of precaution against some of the looting and vandalism going on there. Many neighborhoods, especially those without power, have had looters going through at night, and the members of those communities have had to protect their homes and families.
Much of this has been kept out of the news so as not to panic people, but I have spoken firsthand with those who have been faced with some of the problems in the neighborhoods. And when a school as large as LSU (32,000+ students) sends out a general email to all their faculty, staff and students telling them that it is dangerous to be out and about and traveling, I take that pretty seriously.
My daughter is a student there, and I read the email from LSU myself, as well as several separate ones she received from various professors warning her of the dangers and relating stories not told through the general website.
I have other friends here (one a co-worker, the second a member of our ward, and the third, a long-term Church member who lives in the Baton Rouge area) who have had sons in the National Guard and the U.S. Marshal’s Service who have related horrendous stories about the conditions in the Superdome and surrounding areas of New Orleans, but which it would serve no purpose for me to relate except to say that many innocent people have suffered horrendous indignities, as well as horrible crimes against them and their
President Packer and Elder Ballard flew into Baton Rouge yesterday, with the assistance of Jon Huntsman, and met with many of those in one of the main shelters, then flew over New Orleans and into Mississippi. The brethren met with stake presidents from the affected areas.
According to the Deseret Morning News, “President Packer described the hurricane as a ‘monstrous tragedy.’ He told of recently visiting Indonesia and explaining to officials there that the humanitarian aid of the church was given without expectation of anything
”’We want nothing except the opportunity to help,’ he explained to them. To
those in Baton Rouge, he said, ‘This is going to be a long, long, difficult road ahead of us. And at the end of that long road, we will still be there. We stick with it and we stay with it until we do everything we can to help.’’ .
I thank you all for your prayers and concern, and ask that you continue to pray for not only those directly affected by this calamity, but for those of us who are called upon to provide assistance and comfort to so many in what I am sure is one of the darkest hours of their lives. I know our Father in Heaven lives and that He loves us and will take care of us, and that we will all be made whole again, with time.
I will try to update you on conditions as they become known to me.