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Rolling Hills to be incident command center

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David Abernathy, right, and Kip Franklin, center, Lincoln Parish director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, watch as a volunteer unloads flood relief supplies at Rolling Hills Ministries earlier in the week.

After the heavy rains of last week, much of Lincoln Parish, as well as the state, was affected by flooding.

To aid local residents as well as statewide citizens, Rolling Hills Ministries, was recently named the state incident command center for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

“There is not a single area in the state that hasn’t been affected,” David Abernathy, northern region’s disaster relief regional coordinator, said.

“We have set up five regions that we are working in. We don’t have an office in every parish, but we are working in several parishes.”

The five regions include the Northwest Region stationed in Haughton, the Northeast Region stationed in Monroe, the North Central Region stationed in Ruston, the Southwest Region stationed in Leesville and the Southeast Region stationed in Franklinton.

Rolling Hills Ministry was selected to be the command center due to their strategic placement within the state as compared to the disaster areas.

“The disaster relief arm of the Louisiana Baptist Convention has divided our state into three areas,” Abernathy said. “When the flooding started it was almost all in North Louisiana with the worst of it along the Interstate 20 corridor from Haughton to Monroe.

“So it was logical, because Ruston was spared, that we put the command center in Ruston and begin the operation.”

That idea worked well, he said, and the call for volunteers began.

“We work this in regions, and we call on volunteers in those regions,” he said. “You start by calling your neighboring states, but they got flooding as well. So, Tuesday afternoon we went ahead made this a national call out (for volunteers).”

While volunteers from Texas answered the call for aid, most of the workers will be from other states, including Missouri, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Illinois and South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, Abernathy said.

“Not all of the teams are here yet,” he said.

“It takes a long time for them to travel here with all of their equipment.”

While the group is stationed in Ruston, they are currently working with volunteer groups all over the state, Abernathy said.

“We are working in almost 30 parishes right now, and (Wednesday) we got our first shipment of flood relief supplies from the North American Mission Board,” he said.

On Wednesday, their first round of supplies arrived at Rolling Hills Ministries, Abernathy said.

“We will begin to distribute some of those supplies soon,” he said. “Because the fact that it covers such a widespread area and so many people were affected — it isolated one city — there are a lot of people who are hurting.”

The command center is working along side other nonprofit organizations from all over the United States, he said.

“There is plenty of work for everybody,” he said, adding that all services are free of charge.

“On a local basis, through our thrift stores we are giving out assistance to individuals that have lost because of the flood.”

To participate in this charity, residents can go to one of the stores with photo identification, Abernathy said, and if their address is listed in one of the affected areas, they can get help.
“They can get three outfits of clothing per person,” he said.

However, statewide, the command center is coordinating three main areas that the volunteer teams deal with, including assessment, chaplaincy and mud out.

“We have chaplains on the ground right now to try to help residents understand that people do care, assessors are on the ground who go from house to house to try to help the most needy first and then a mud out team will come in and remove furniture and debris from the house,” he said. “They will pull paneling and then pressure wash the house and treat it with a chemical that kills the mold, so that when our teams finishes, that house is ready to start rebuilding.”

The volunteers with the disaster relief center know they will be working long after the initial first responders have gone.

“We are in it for the long haul,” Abernathy said. “We know that isn’t going to be over in a week or two. Some areas will be weeks, if not months, in recovery.”

One of the most remarkable things he has seen in the last six days is the response from churches and residents who have come together to help one another make it through the storm, he said.

“I don’t know if I have ever seen in my disaster work, or ever, (this level) of bonding,” he said. “They were feeding and gutting houses even before the other teams have arrived.”

Boots are on the ground right now, and more are on the way, Abernathy said.

“This area is such a generous area, and I want (residents) to understand that what they have done by supporting us is being given back to the community.”

Abernathy also noted that the command center and its volunteers were not first responders, but were in place for recovery.

“We love our first responders, but that is not our job,” he said. “We are recovery, and to get those teams in there you have to wait until you can get in there to assess the needs.”

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