After the prayers ended Sunday morning at the Baker Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, adherents headed into the next room where the hammers, shovels and work gloves were stowed.
"When you're in the service of your fellow man, you're in the service of God," Mississippi attorney and judge Steven D. Boone said while fellow Mormons tore the soggy drywall out of a house in Greenwell Springs.
As happened after Hurricane Katrina, religious relief organizations have begun arriving to help victims gut their flooded homes and start rebuilding. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Teams, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Convoy of Hope and Operation Blessing have all announced their intentions to provide support. Non-denominational relief organization Samaritan's Purse also brought about 120 volunteers to perform mud-outs Sunday, said spokesman Scott Knuteson. Some caravaned in from other states, and one woman decided to help after receiving aid herself in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he said.
Bethany Church in Baker was inundated with 5 feet of water. Farther south on Highland Road i…
In the coming weeks the LDS church anticipates bringing thousands of volunteers from cities as far as Houston, Memphis and Panama City. A vanguard of several hundred were already on the ground last weekend, staging out of churches in Baker and Hammond.
The church has been converted to an operations command post. In Baker, the floor outside the sanctuary is covered in plastic to prevent workers from tracking mud inside. Crates of water and stacks of loaves of bread are available to volunteers. Outside, workers push wheelbarrows and drag sleds to their trucks so they'll have equipment to haul debris once they head into disaster areas.
They also load up with three-gallon buckets stuffed with brushes and cleaning supplies which they leave with homeowners when its time to move on to the next house.
After Katrina, the church's disaster relief efforts got more organized, said Randy Bluth, the LDS welfare services manager for Louisiana and Mississippi. A central command center takes requests for assistance and directs individual teams, who try to muck out several houses each day.
Frequently a church member will request help and his neighbors will see the volunteers — who wear bright yellow "Mormon Helping Hands" T-shirts— and ask for help, volunteers said. The service, provided free of charge, can be requested by Mormons and non-Mormons alike by calling (800) 451-1954.
Volunteer Heidi Green knows what it's like to be struck by disaster. After her hometown of Hazlehurst, Mississippi, was hammered by a string of tornadoes, members of the church flocked to the area with chainsaws. They helped clean up the damaged structures, which included her school her children attend.
Bryce Kunz, of Jackson, Mississippi, is preparing to make return trips for the next several weeks. His wife is staying home to care for volunteers' children so more people will be able to make the trip. Some out-of-towners are sleeping at the church so they can get started early each day.
Kunz, who other volunteers likened to the Tasmanian Devil for his energy, said church leaders asked him to visit the flood-affected area. But he also feels a personal obligation. Back home the sun is shining and life carries on as normal, but in Louisiana, people are crying out for help.
"You see their hearts are just broken," Kunz said.
Before they leave, volunteers ask homeowners if they would like to pray. During the break in the flurry of activity while they pray together, many homeowners break down sobbing, Boone said.
The volunteers hope they can mitigate at least some of their suffering, even if only by helping them pull out Sheetrock or dragging warped furniture to the curb.