Moved by memories of rising floodwaters that ravaged their homes more than a decade ago, New Orleans-area officials and residents rushed Monday to help victims of the monsoon-like rains that have inundated other parts of Louisiana in recent days, leaving six people dead and thousands temporarily homeless.
“The people of New Orleans know what it’s like to suffer through a disaster,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Monday as he announced the reactivation of a citywide relief fund to help flood victims.
Landrieu launched the fund, NOLA Pay It Forward, in 2011 to contribute to recovery efforts after the Mississippi River flooded a number of communities that year. It has been relaunched twice in the years since. The Greater New Orleans Foundation runs the fund; people can donate online at www.gnof.org/NOLApayitforward, or by calling 504-598-4663.
Other area agencies, meanwhile, launched their own similar drives for money or supplies, though it was clear that it could be some time before all roads were dry enough to ship needed items to those affected. They included parish agencies, churches and nonprofits.
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The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office began accepting donations Monday of clean clothes at its training building on South Broad Street, in what marked the agency’s latest effort to help flood victims. Over the rainy weekend, Sheriff Marlin Gusman sent a dozen employees and three boats to Livingston to rescue residents trapped by floodwaters, he said.
“Anyone who survived Hurricane Katrina can understand the sense of loss our neighbors are experiencing right now,” Gusman said.
The New Orleans Police Department sent five boats to Baton Rouge, spokesman Tyler Gamble said. Officials in Jefferson Parish sent 14 boats of their own and launched a Sunday clothing drive; they will run a donation center in Kenner and a school supply drive this week, they said. St. Bernard Parish -- which was almost completely laid waste by Katrina in 2005 -- sent parish employees and airboats to St. Helena Parish, and other workers to Baton Rouge and Denham Springs to help with rescues.
Over in St. Tammany Parish, officials worked over the weekend to help evacuate more than 1,000 drivers trapped on Interstate 12, which connects the north shore to the capital city, and shelter those forced out of their homes. Joyce Bruce, a Marrero resident who has volunteered with local arm of the American Red Cross for more than 30 years, hit the road Friday to help feed families at the Covington shelter, she said.
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While St. Tammany saw much less devastation in the weekend's floods than it suffered in the spring, when the Tchefuncte River swelled and caused record flooding, not everyone escaped unscathed this time. Some St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parish residents, still reeling from the March flood, must again rebuild, Bruce said. Some of them left the south shore after Katrina, and are now are coming to grips with the fact that disaster can strike anywhere, she said.
“It’s hard for them, because not only did they lose things once, they lost it twice,” she said.
Those who want to help can sign up to serve or donate at the Red Cross website, she said.
At least one area faith-based group -- whose members who remember the devastation they experienced in Katrina -- called over the weekend for toiletries, water, and volunteers who could drive to Tangipahoa, Baton Rouge, and Livingston to clear debris from homes. Dennis Watson, lead pastor at the eight-campus, nondenominational Celebration Church, said such work is part of the church’s mission. “We are so grateful to the people of Baton Rouge and the north shore who took in the people of New Orleans following Katrina and helped us with disaster relief,” he said.
At the church’s Airline Drive campus on Monday, volunteers were stacking cases of donated water for delivery, while other groups coordinated “mud-out” teams to clean up in affected areas.
Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, the Catholic church’s social services nonprofit, will send counselors, case managers, and a nurse to assist its sister agency in Baton Rouge this week. The group is also collecting money to benefit sister agencies across the state that are affected, said Erin Alexander Bolles, the agency’s director of institutional advancement.
“As the waters recede, (Catholic Charities) will mobilize volunteer support for cleaning and other rebuilding projects over the next several weeks,” she said.
Second Harvest Food Bank is sending thousands of pounds of food, water and cleaning supplies to flood victims, and is accepting donations at its Elmwood and Lafayette locations, the group said.
The Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, in partnership with the Louisiana State Animal Response Team, is working to rescue pets affected by flooding and also pet supplies donations, officials said. Those who wish to help may drop off supplies at Canine Connection on Tchoupitoulas Street in Uptown, Camp BowWow on Conti Street in Mid-City and Demo Diva on Memphis Street in Lakeview.
Finally, the United Way of Southeast Louisiana will accept cleaning kits and other items at its Canal Street office in New Orleans until further notice, spokeswoman Terry Westerfield said.
People may also give online, at http://www.unitedwaysela.org/flood.