Hurricane Laura barrels through Western Louisiana; congregations to assess community-wide needs

By David Paulsen
Posted Aug 27, 2020

Chris Johnson views destruction at his home on Aug. 27 in Lake Charles, Louisiana, after Hurricane Laura moved through the state. Johnson stayed in his home as the storm passed. Photo: Associated Press

[Episcopal News Service] Hurricane Laura made landfall early Aug. 27 as a powerful Category 4 storm, producing a dangerous storm surge in southwestern Louisiana and threatening inland communities, particularly in the Diocese of Western Louisiana and eastern parts of the Diocese of Texas.

“This is a powerful, life-threatening storm. If you’re in the southwest, please heed the governor’s warning and evacuate,” Western Louisiana Bishop Jacob Owensby said in a Facebook post Aug. 26 as the hurricane was approaching.

The diocese is based the central Louisiana city of Pineville, and Laura, though weakening as it moved north, was still packing hurricane-force winds of 75 mph as of late morning Aug. 27, according to the National Hurricane Center. Owensby posted photos showing a pine tree felled by the wind outside his home in Alexandria.

Four Episcopal churches are located in and around Lake Charles, Louisiana, an inland waterway city about 30 miles from the Gulf Coast where Laura made landfall with winds of up to 150 mph and what forecasters described as a “catastrophic storm surge.”

“Dear ones, I pray that all of you are well and you made it through the storm safely,” the Rev. Margaret Lovejoy said in a post to the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Facebook page. She reported evacuating with her family to Waco, Texas. Of those who remained in Lake Charles, she asked if any were available to check on the church, just north of the city in Moss Bluff.

A large chemical fire was reported Aug. 27 at a plant in Lake Charles. The region is an oil industry hub, and refineries there reportedly shut down or reduced capacity in advance of the storm.

The Rev. Seth Donald, rector of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, left Lake Charles with his family to stay in Shreveport, in the state’s northwest corner, during the storm. On Aug. 26, outside St. Mark’s Cathedral in Shreveport, Donald addressed his congregation in a Facebook livestream to offer his support while encouraging parishioners to follow evacuation orders.

“This is a great time to remember that our priority is on the value of human life and not our possessions,” Donald said.

At noon Aug. 27, Laura was downgraded to a tropical storm, with maximum winds of 70 mph. At that time, it was centered about 50 miles east of Shreveport. Another storm, Marco, made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River on Aug. 24, but as it was a tropical storm, it posed much less of a threat. This hurricane season could end up one of the most active on record, according to forecasters.

Just across the state line, in Beaumont, Texas, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church leaders were reaching out to members on Aug. 27 to check on their conditions after the hurricane and assess their and the community’s needs.

“Let us give thanks that Beaumont was largely spared from the worst of Hurricane Laura, praise be to God,” the church said on Facebook. “Just as Beaumont fared well, it is because the storm moved east and hit our friends and family in Louisiana even harder,” the post said, and it encouraged followers to donate to Episcopal Relief & Development to support recovery efforts.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at