A Lake Charles man who was hospitalized with severe carbon monoxide poisoning died Thursday, joining four of his family members who shared his tragic fate when a generator they set up during Hurricane Laura filled their house with poisonous fumes.
John Lewis, 70, along with his wife, Rosalie, 81, their daughter, and two other relatives were unable to leave their home ahead of the hurricane due to medical issues and decided to wait out the storm.
Family members say all five hunkered down and survived the fierce winds that shredded their neighbors' homes but largely spared theirs.
Hours after the storm passed, four of them died when the generator they set up in the garage filled the home with poisonous fumes. When emergency crews arrived, John Lewis was the only person still breathing.
Relatives said he was brought to a hospital in Alexandria and had been in critical condition.
Thursday's announcement by the Louisiana Department of Health marked the 20th death in Louisiana related to Hurricane Laura, which brought historic winds that shredded homes and knocked out electricity for much of southwestern Louisiana and western Texas.
Family members say John and Rosalie Lewis were well-known in their community and were highly active in their neighborhood church. They moved there in the 1950s, and other relatives followed.
Rosalie Lewis became southwest Louisiana's first Black woman to serve as a postal service supervisor. Her husband, John Lewis, drove trucks for Kroger grocery stores, making him an ace at navigating back roads and avoiding traffic jams.
Ahead of Laura's landfall, they had sheltered at their sturdy family home with daughter Kim Lewis Evans, 56, her husband, Chris Evans, as well as Rosalie Lewis’ brother, Clyde Handy.
They and the house survived the devastation of Hurricane Rita 15 years ago and more than a half-century before that when Hurricane Audrey, one of the deadliest tropical cyclones in U.S. history, crashed ashore in southwest Louisiana in the late ‘50s.
Authorities have said fumes from a generator they set up in the garage entered the home through an open door. Relatives said the door in the garage had been closed, but they are unsure sure how it opened while the generator was running.
A joint funeral service for the family members is scheduled Sept. 12.
Of the 20 deaths in Louisiana tied to Laura, nine have been linked to carbon monoxide poisoning as of Thursday.
It's renewed concerns for state and local officials who urged people to be aware of generator placement since basic utilities like electricity and running water may not be restored for weeks.
With no electricity, people are reliant on generators to power air conditioners to stave off high heat, which has also proven deadly for residents in southwest Louisiana, said Louisiana Department of Health spokeswoman Aly Neel.
At least four people have died due to heatstroke in southwest Louisiana, the health department said.