Blessed to Bless

September 13, 2017
Story by Mark Lambert

“The first thing that hit me was that smell.”

As an Early Response Team member certified through the Louisiana Conference, Susan Laborde had smelled the inside of a flooded home many times. But this one was different. This house in southwest Louisiana was her first as an ERT member since going through her own devastating flood one year earlier.

“I just sat there for a few seconds. At my house, that smell stuck around until Christmas. It just kept coming back.”

In five years as an ERT member, Susan had helped many people clean, muck and tarp their houses after a disaster. But, she had always focused on the structural damage to the home, not the emotional damage to the homeowner.

“I’m not a people person,” said Susan, a member of Blackwater United Methodist in Central, near Baton Rouge. “I always viewed my ERT job was to get in there, work hard and get the job done, not to chat.”

Susan’s predisposition to hard work was tested in August 2016, when a 1,000-year flood event inundated much of the Baton Rouge region. Despite taking all the sandbagging and mitigation precautions they could, Susan and her husband, Gerard, had to be evacuated from their home in the middle of the night by a sheriff’s office rescue squad. More than five feet of water decimated the house and its belongings.

Over the next several months, Susan and Gerard leaned heavily on their church of 30 years as they lived through the nightmare of home demolition and reconstruction and the emotional trauma that goes with it. “As weird as it was, it did dawn on me that, now I have a perspective from both sides of a disaster.” 
Susan Laborde mucks out a house in Lake Charles, LA

So, when Susan volunteered to go to the Lake Charles area to help homeowners clean up after Hurricane Harvey, along with her cleanup tools, she packed that new perspective. “Now, I see that the homeowner needs to be rebuilt, that the house is just part of that rebuild.” 

Once she arrived in southwest Louisiana, instead of rushing into the first damaged home to tear out sheetrock, Susan looked for the homeowner and introduced herself.

“Before, I would see that as wasting time,” she said. “I would have just gone in there and started working. I used to think, ‘This is their home, and we’re wrecking walls out, and they’re just standing there.’ I would be wondering, ‘What’s wrong with them?’ Now I know. Now they’re in the same place where I was.”

Susan shares her story with affected homeowners, offering love and encouragement. “I told two ladies, ‘You will get to a place and learn about a new normal.’ I learned that I could pray 12 hours a day. I learned that my church is my anchor. And, these people we are assisting are like-minded people. Their church is their anchor.”

Susan remains tough-minded; she is not the type of person to be taken over by sentimentality.

“I don’t believe things happen for a reason. I think things happen, and my faith in God helps me to react well. The Bible says God is not in the destruction but in the little, small things, and sometimes you have to get small to see it.”

The Louisiana Conference needs certified ERT responders, specifically for the Lake Charles district and the area impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Training takes place on Saturday, Sept. 16 in Pineville and Monroe. Click here for more details.

Below, Susan shares tips for those dealing with trauma after a flood. 

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