It was 5 am on August 2016, when Rina Aguirre heard noises coming from outside her house. It was the sounds of her neighbors trying to flee their homes as their street started to rapidly flood. “I started seeing a lot of water coming down our street, and our neighbors were evacuating their houses, so we did the same. We never expected it to be this bad”, Rina said, “I didn’t think that that would be the last time we would be in sleeping in our home.”
Rina’s house was one of more than 140,000 homes that were severely damaged and left uninhabitable by the catastrophic floods of 2016 in Louisiana. Rina and her husband Juan, both in their 70’s, were left homeless, just like many of their neighbors. Their house didn’t have any floors anymore, their kitchen was destroyed, their rooms where infested with mold, and it smelled like sewage. “We couldn’t go back in. Everything we had, everything we worked for, was damaged or gone. The house was completely ruined,” she said. Rina added that they had just purchased a new mattress six months before the disaster. “We worked so hard to buy it and it was gone.”
It’s been over a year and a half since their home flooded and they began living in a FEMA-provided trailer. Unfortunately, their 18-month lease on the trailer is up on February 1st, 2018. “My husband and I were so worried about having to give up the trailer. We had no idea where we were going to go or what we were going to do,” Rina said desperately.
They didn’t have the money to repair their home, and they were losing all hope that they would ever return to live in it. Juan, who has been battling cancer for more than a year, recounted, “I thought I was going to die and never live inside that house again.”
Everything changed for the better during the week of January 7-14, when Rina and Juan were one of four families whose homes were repaired by our amazing team of 12 volunteers. Cyndi Feldman, a first time volunteer, said she wasn’t aware of the level of desperation that some people were still experiencing in Louisiana. “I didn’t know the extent of the damage that occurred. I needed to see it firsthand,” Cyndi said. “It has been a lot of work with long days, but it’s all been worth it. The families are very grateful and I am so happy to be able to help people like the Aguirres have a home again!”
Pavel Sfera, another volunteer said, “the greatest gift is to watch these families as they go back into their homes.”
Rina and Juan are extremely grateful for all the hard work that our volunteers have done. “We are very, very, very happy to finally have a home again,” Rina said with her voice breaking. “We are so grateful for all the volunteers! I don’t have the words to express my gratitude, we had lost all hope, and they have restored it.”
Since March 2017, in partnership with the Louisiana United Methodist Conference, we have deployed 71 volunteers to Louisiana to help repair homes for the families affected by this disaster. In 2018, we will soon be deploying groups of volunteers to Texas to help restore homes that were destroyed during Hurricane Harvey.