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Alabama coach Avery Johnson lends helping hand to Louisiana flood victims

Southern University graduate sends truckload of supplies to help those in need

Alabama head basketball coach Avery Johnson knows what it’s like to experience loss.

Eleven years ago, Johnson’s family lost personal belongings, homes and vehicles when Hurricane Katrina ravaged his hometown of New Orleans. On Thursday, Johnson extended a helping hand to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the form of an 18-wheeler filled with supplies for the devastated area.

The truck arrived Thursday at Southern University’s F.G. Clark Activity Center, where hundreds of displaced residents took shelter last week and remain today. Water, soap, towels and clothes were among some of the items donated. The last stop inside the center was the basketball arena, which was named after Johnson in 2013. Johnson, a 1988 Southern alum and former standout point guard, felt compelled to act immediately upon hearing of the flooding in Baton Rouge that has claimed 13 lives and displaced more than 40,000.

“My heart goes out to all the residents of the Baton Rouge area that have been impacted by this devastating flood,” Johnson said in a statement. “I wanted to figure out an immediate way to help support the recovery efforts. In talking with Interim AD and men’s basketball coach Roman Banks, I decided I wanted to load up an 18-wheeler with as many supplies as we could possibly fit on it and get it to Baton Rouge from Tuscaloosa immediately.”

Johnson knows the heartache and havoc that natural disasters can bring. In a 2015 interview, he recalled how helpless he felt as his family tried to escape the rising waters of Hurricane Katrina. Though most of his family members were able to make it out, two of sisters were trapped in their homes until his brother rescued them by boat.

“I think the main thing I felt was helplessness,” Johnson said. “I was a man who had tremendous resources, contacts, relationships. I just felt helpless and handcuffed. I couldn’t do anything to help. I basically went into the other mode: let’s start preparing for as many people as we can; let’s get out to the shelters, those who were displaced. I went into field operation mode.”

That’s exactly why Johnson wants to continue helping the area and families long after floodwaters have receded.

“I will continue to be a part of the restoration efforts,” Johnson said. “This was just a small showing of love and support for a community that’s dear to my heart. I’m proud to be a 1988 graduate of Southern University and I wanted to let people down there know we are thinking and praying for the entire community.”

Power outages and lost cellphone signals are making the search for loved ones even harder for evacuees. There are more than 10,000 residents still in shelters in Baton Rouge and surrounding areas, and 70,000 have applied for individual assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency. President Barack Obama will travel to Baton Rouge on Tuesday to assess the damaged region.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.