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'It's the perfect storm of challenging environments.' | Mercy Chefs face hurdles trying to provide disaster relief in Louisiana

Mercy Chefs founder Gary LeBlanc said the area of Lake Charles the nonprofit went to didn't have running water, making it difficult to set up mobile kitchens.

LAKE CHARLES, La. — In the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, Portsmouth-based non-profit Mercy Chefs are on the ground in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

They’re getting ready to provide disaster relief in the hardest-hit areas by providing hot meals.

The founder, Chef Gary LeBlanc said this time around, they’re facing challenges they’ve never dealt with in the past.  

"This is the perfect storm of challenging environments now. COVID-19, no water, no accommodations. I can’t imagine a more challenging environment, but that’s what Mercy Chefs does,” LeBlanc said. “We adapt and we will overcome these challenges, we will make a way to serve these people.”

LeBlanc said the damage Laura left behind is on par with the damage he’s witnessed following Category Five hurricanes.

“Roofs are not just mangled or ripped apart, but taken away. Brick buildings that have had walls blown in. Trees, power lines, power poles down across roads. Most roads are impassable. The debris cleanup hasn’t even begun,” LeBlanc said.

Mercy Chefs will set up two mobile kitchens in Louisiana.

LeBlanc said they’re dealing with a major challenge: damage from the storm left parts of Lake Charles without running water. They spent all of Friday trying to find water supplies to get their mobile kitchens running.

Leblanc said he has met people on the ground who have lost their entire homes.

“We’re seeing people that are in shock still, they have not contemplated their circumstance,” LeBlanc explained. “Sheltering is entirely different, there’s not a hotel room for 125 miles around Lake Charles. If shelters are taking anyone in, they’re full already, because of social distancing. Some of these people just have nowhere to go and they don’t know what to do, they’re in shock.”

His staff is dealing with challenges of their own. Without hotels in the area, they’re sleeping on air mattresses placed on the grounds of church floors. Without water, they’re unable to take showers. The lack of power and air conditioning is another difficult element they’re dealing with.

This time around, it’s personal for LeBlanc. The damage is in his hometown of Lake Charles, which holds generations of his family’s history.

LeBlanc said his hope and mission is to provide people with some relief over a shared meal.  

Leblanc says he’s witnessed the aftermath of 130 disasters, but he ranked Laura’s damage in the top four.

Mercy Chefs will be in Louisiana for at least two more weeks.