Louisiana co-op spirit fights back gainst worst disaster since Katrina

billy-gibson-la-flooding-img_3975As Baton Rouge homeowner Chanon Johnson picks through the remains of her flood-ravaged house, the irony of her situation isn’t lost upon her.

As a case manager at the DEMCO Foundation, the charitable arm of the Dixie Electric Membership Corp., Johnson helps decide where the ­foundation’s Operation Roundup funds go.

“It’s pretty ironic. Now we’re the ones needing help,” Johnson said.

Johnson is one of an estimated 50 employees at the Baton Rouge co-op whose home was damaged by the “1,000-year” storms that dumped more than two feet of rain in 48 hours across Louisiana.

The Red Cross is calling the disaster the nation’s worst since Superstorm Sandy four years ago. Ground zero was Livingston Parish in south Baton Rouge, the heart of DEMCO’s service territory. Overall, 70 percent of homes in the parish were damaged.

“I’ve been spending the day ­helping members pull off sheet rock,” said Billy Gibson, manager of ­communications at the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives. His house was spared, he said, leaving him with “survivor’s guilt.”

Gibson says this event was every bit as devastating to ­people, ­commerce, education system, government, neighbor­hoods and churches as Katrina was 11 years ago. “The misery index, the amount of grief, ­emotional distress and anguish, ­physical ­exhaustion, financial burden, the tears shed — all added to 100 degree temps — is very difficult to grasp,” he says. ”But, as usual, the overarching story is a prevailing spirit of determination to battle back against the odds.”

The co-op spirit has triumphed over another natural ­disaster. “To ­witness how many co-op folks around the ­country responded to help our employees, and how our employees have responded, is a truly inspiring narrative,” says Gibson.

A relief fund reactivated by the statewide association has already begun disbursing aid to Johnson and other co-op employees.

If you want to contribute, please make checks out to Hurricane Relief Fund and send to ALEC, Hurricane Relief Fund, 10725 Airline Highway, Baton Rouge, La. 70816.