It’s been one month since Hurricane Laura, but communities are a long way from recovery.
"People are suffering from devastation down here," said Jeffrey Simpson, who lost his home in Lake Charles in the storm.
Rev. Angela Bulhof, of the University United Methodist Church, said the entire community around her Louisiana house of worship is still struggling weeks after the disaster.
"Twenty-six days without drinkable water, and at my house, 18 days without electricity," she said.
Thousands in the area are still without power, even now.
Raging winds and rain from the Category 5 storm ravaged the community of Lake Charles.
"It blew out windows, blew out skylights, ripped up roof," described Simpson.
Neighborhoods are now seas of tarp-covered roofs, and the United University Methodist Church is no exception.
Rev. Bulhof came back after evacuating to find her safe haven a mess.
"You could just smell the mold that was beginning to grow," she said.
The church has extensive water damage, roof damage, and its school and sanctuary are now closed indefinitely.
The wall of the school was made of brick and concrete, but the hurricane ripped it out and threw the bricks and concrete into the street. It took five dumpsters to clear out all the bricks left behind.
But more than the structural damage, Reverend Bulhof keeps asking herself, "How do we keep the spirit alive and connected when there’s literally not even a place to gather?"
A reality made tougher as COVID-19 was already keeping people apart.
"Part of me is wondering, ‘What’s next now, God?’ We were doing our best to get things online, and now, 10 steps back," said Bulhof.
Her parishioners feel that loss of community deeply.
"It makes my heart hurt," said Mary Simpson, a long-time worshipper, who lost her home in the storm. "I see all the people, and my heart just hurts for them, even though I'm one of them."
Mary and Jeff Simpson have been members of this church for years. They were married in the church two years ago. Even with the building unusable in their church, they knew when they lost their home, they could look to their church family for support.
"This is a building," said Jeff Simpson. "The church is the family within it, and we’re still holding together."
No one can say how long this church will be closed or how the parish will pay all the costs to rebuild, but Rev. Bulhof knows one thing.
"There is nothing we go through that we go through alone," she said.
This church—this family—will endure.