When Hurricane Laura veered away from Houston, we all took a collective sigh of relief. With Hurricane Harvey a not-so-distant memory, we were all praying we would be spared this time around.
We were, but our Louisiana neighbors were not. With so many transplants from that area and the close proximity to Texas, we felt Lake Charles’ pain as residents there woke to damage some had never seen in their lifetimes.
When Darla Fanta, a former Lake Charles resident with family still in the area, drove into town post-Laura, she was stricken. “The devastation I saw was a picture of what Mother Nature can do, and it wasn’t pretty. The destruction was devastating. Every convenience was gone; everything people worked a lifetime for was gone in a matter of minutes – homes, cars, everything.”
Fort Bend resident Ray Aguilar didn’t need to see the damage in order to kick in and start thinking. He has worked for the Office of Emergency Management in Fort Bend County for years and has always served the community by volunteering. “I was responsible for logistics, supplies, and distribution during Harvey. When we were suffering, the Cajun Army came here in droves. They saw the logistics collection I had set up during Harvey, everything I had posted on social media, and they showed up ready to do whatever was needed to help us. Now it was time to do the same for Louisiana.”
So Aguilar and his friend William Ferguson began collecting items to take to Lake Charles. They started with the basics: water, Gatorade, and flashlights, and they headed to the area to determine exactly what was needed. A quick stop at the police station gave them their first requested task – clear as many roads as they could of fallen trees and debris so utility trucks could restore electricity, gas, and water to homes.
“We cleared two miles’ worth of roads, and while doing that, we had a vantage point in which to see all the trees that had fallen on houses,” Aguilar said. “Most people were in shock. They stood in their yards staring at their loss and the extent of the destruction, and they couldn’t fathom where to start. “
So Aguilar and Ferguson spurred them to action. They assured each family that they wanted no money and were just there to help. Then they started working, the families pitched in, and the clean-up was jump-started. They went back and forth to Lake Charles several times, each time bringing fresh supplies. One night, Aguilar slept in his truck. Another, he spent in someone’s camper.
Along with Aguilar and Ferguson, many Houston residents polled resources to collect supplies, make deliveries, send meals, purchase chain saws and other tools, and even get their hands dirty in clean up. Sugar Land Rotary and Dean Law Firm filled a U-Haul with supplies that Fanta delivered to the community.
“Whenever we arrived with supplies,” Fanta said, “mom was in tears. Imagine the gratitude just for water, something we take for granted. You don’t think about electricity until you don’t have it. Kids aren’t in school and haven’t been since the Pandemic started. There is so much affected when something of this magnitude strikes.”
Yet Fanta saw the beauty that can arise from devastation. “The miracles that came out of every day were amazing. In the midst of all the mess there still was the beauty of God’s hand, the love that came out of it, neighbors checking on neighbors, helping, sharing supplies and vehicles and equipment, the utility workers working tirelessly. Houston Food trucks drove all the way to Lake Charles to feed people. River Pointe Church in Richmond presented a local church with $10,000 to meet the needs of the community. Church members went house to house cleaning up yards. The love and compassion were extraordinary.”
And the people leading the charge are as humble as ever. Todd Breton, Sugar Land Rotary President, said, “Helping each other in times of need is super important to me. It is heartbreaking to me to see someone affected by a disaster. It’s important to me that if a neighbor has been severely impacted by a disaster, I provide empathy, emotional support, and whatever tools and resources are needed the most.”
Aguilar’s sentiments are similar as he spoke about the residents of Lake Charles. “They are people who may not have means, but whatever they got, they’ll give it to you. My dad always said, ‘If you think of yourself, you’ll be by yourself, and that’s the loneliest place to be.’ I don’t need to wait for anyone to tell me what needs to be done.”