LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana – Cleanup operations are well underway across southern Texas and Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Laura.
While visiting the region Saturday, President Trump echoed the surprise many people expressed at the tremendous power of the storm when it hit.
"This was almost coming in at a (Category) 5. I believe it was a five a little bit offshore, 150 miles an hour, but it was up to 185 at one point out offshore, I don't think we've ever seen that" Trump said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said, "That was the strongest storm to ever strike Louisiana. I was talking to some individuals here today who've been living here all their lives. They can never remember hurricane-force winds this far in north Louisiana that we experienced."
And like everything else this year, the response has been affected by the COVID crisis.
Gov. Edwards said, "Being a good neighbor means doing all the things you would normally do during a storm, just doing it from 6 feet away and with a mask on, because we still are the state in the country with the most cases per capita, we still have tremendous challenges from COVID."
But the governor is receiving some criticism from residents about putting too much emphasis on the virus threat, which they say pales in comparison to the danger from this storm.
Especially in poor communities, people rely on local emergency shelters to help them survive both during and after the storm. But Governor Edwards closed all the local shelters in advance of Hurricane Laura, instead of encouraging people to make the trek to hotels in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, several hours away. Those who were unable to do that for whatever reason now feel like they've been abandoned.
Resident Billy Ray Richarde said, "We don't have water. The water is off in Lake Charles, they tell me, so we drinkin' rainwater."
The Golden Arms Apartments is a subsidized living facility that houses about 400 residents over age 65. Most of them got out before the storm hit, but a lack of transportation resulted in sixty or so riding out the storm. Without a local shelter to go to, they were stuck without essential services.
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Richarde said, "The lights went out like two o'clock in the morning during the hurricane."
Now left without power, water, or transportation, these residents aren't sure what will happen to them. CBN's Operation Blessing scrambled to get some aid to the Golden Arms Apartments until they could be safely evacuated.
But the hotels are already full of refugees, and that fact is also hindering responders coming to help with the cleanup, now unable to find anywhere to stay.
The Louisiana National Guard has deployed hundreds of troops to help with cleanup efforts. Captain Randy Burdeaux with the 20th Engineer Battalion of the Louisiana Army National Guard is the unit's chaplain.
Burdeaux told CBN News, "Especially when they get back from being evacuated, they're going to be in devastation, so any way we can give 'em some encouragement, we're all in this together."
But Burdeaux says the greatest needs aren't food, water, or electricity.
"Their biggest needs right now are definitely prayers for spiritual help, and to know that God is here. You know, God is our refuge, an ever-present help in time of trouble. And anything that we can give them to remind them that God has not left them, is what we can do. Pray for it," he said.
CBN's Operation Blessing US Disaster Relief team, who arrived in Natchitoches, LA on Thursday, is still working with local churches to serve the needs of residents.
Operation Blessing is planning to deliver a water purification system this week to a hospital to help it get back up and running.
And OB has already brought food and water to people in need, along with flashlights - which many people have to have because hundreds of thousands are still without power after Laura crushed homes and knocked out power.
To give to Operation Blessing's Disaster Relief fund, call: 1-800-700-7000 or CLICK HERE.