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Help Pours into Harrisburg

Janet McConnaughey, AP
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Harrisburg Tornado 1, Getty Images, Scott Olson
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 HARRISBURG, Ill. (AP) – Four pickup-and-trailer loads of goods brought over the weekend to tornado-stricken Harrisburg, Ill., are just a partial return for help after Hurricane Rita in 2005, say residents of Lake Arthur, a town of 2,700 in southwest Louisiana.

A tractor-trailer load of supplies will probably leave nearby Lake Charles about midweek, and residents of the Lafayette area, about 45 miles away, also are collecting a lot of goods, Phil Thibodaux of Lake Arthur said in a cell-phone interview as he drove back home Sunday.

Lake Arthur residents met Barry Sneed, a pastor at Little Chapel Church in Harrisburg, and members of the church band, named A Band Called River, while tailgating at a NASCAR race in Talladega, Ala., where the band was performing.

They knew each other just by first names and nicknames — Nonky, Coony and Big Nasty being some of the Lake Arthur men’s nicknames, said Michelle Thibodeaux, Phil Thibodeaux’s sister-in-law and one of the organizers of the drive.

“When Hurricane Rita hit Louisiana, one of the ladies from the band called the police station to check on all the guys they met and their families,” Michelle Thibodeaux said in a phone interview Sunday from her home. Lake Arthur is such a small town police didn’t need family names to reassure the caller everyone was healthy, she said.

About two weeks later, she said, the band brought two tractor-trailers loaded with canned food, bottled water and other emergency goods to Lake Arthur.

Since then, Lake Arthur has modeled an annual festival after one given by the church, naming it River Fest after the band. Church members come every year to help with Lake Arthur’s festival and Lake Arthur residents go to Illinois to help with the church festival.

After strong storms and a tornado hit Harrisburg on Wednesday, killing six people and injuring about 100, Thibodaux’s sister-in-law, Michelle Thibodeaux, said she and Phil Thibodaux’s wife were talking about what they could do to help.

One of them posted a note on Facebook. “It just went crazy with everybody willing to help. And they forwarded out the text,” Michelle Thibodeaux said. “Within 48 hours we had four trailers to bring here. And since then it’s just grown and grown and grown.”

And, she said, the band always opens its annual ministry tour at Lake Arthur.

“Our River Fest is March 24. They’re going to be here,” Michelle Thibodeaux said.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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