LAKE CHARLES — Crews of search and rescue specialists surrounded a Lake Charles apartment complex late Friday afternoon, deploying the ladder from a fire truck and trying to extract a woman trapped on the building’s third floor in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.

The hurricane stripped Lake Charles of electricity and running water, while crews from across the country — including Louisiana’s own Cajun Navy Relief — spent Thursday and Friday scouting for people caught in their homes without means to call for help. At the Tower Oaks Apartments, residents said they were ordered out by the end of Friday after the complex was damaged in the storm, but it wasn’t easy for everyone to heed the mandate.

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LAKE CHARLES- Lake Charles firefighters extend a ladder to attempt a third floor rescue at an apartment complex damaged by Hurricane Laura. Members of the department along with the Cajun Navy, Empact Northwest, and other search and rescue teams helped with the efforts on Friday, August 28, 2020. Because of no electricity, residents of the complex were told they had to move out by the end of the day due to the damage. Some of the residents were not able to go down the stairs. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

A wheelchair-bound woman who lived on the third floor of the senior complex couldn’t get down the building’s stairs, and the lack of electricity meant she couldn’t use the elevator. Tenants below carried armfuls of walkers, clothes, food and other belongings to evacuate after riding out the storm in their apartments, now unlivable with soaked carpets and partially missing roofs.

The Lake Charles Fire Department, the Cajun Navy Relief, Empact Northwest and several other rescue crews showed up at the complex Friday afternoon, trying to figure out how best to get the woman out. It was a far different kind of rescue than those they’ve typically undertaken in the aftermath of storms, such as Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and the Baton Rouge floods in 2016, all of which left people stranded on rooftops and only able to get out by boat.

There was no water this time, but there were logistical challenges nonetheless.

At first, the firefighters unfurled a ladder from their truck up to the woman’s third-floor apartment, while others buzzed a chain-saw through the railing of her outdoor balcony, sparks flying off the metal. They removed a section of it and tossed it down below.

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LAKE CHARLES- A stretcher is used for a woman, top center, that was being rescued from the third floor of an apartment complex damaged by Hurricane Laura. Members of the fire department, the Cajun Navy, Empact Northwest, and other search and rescue teams helped the efforts on Friday, August 28, 2020. Because of no electricity, residents of the complex were told they had to move out by the end of the day due to the damage. Some of the residents were not able to go down the stairs. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Chris Romero, 67, a resident of the complex who toted his belongings to his car as the scene unfolded.

But the crews changed plans, and decided to collapse the fire ladder back atop the truck. Instead, a crew of six men surrounded the woman, cradled her into a basket and slowly slid down her down the stairs, step by step.

It was arduous and slow, but they finally got her down to the bottom. If the effort lacked the cinematic drama of a flood rescue, the woman didn’t seem to mind. She looked up at the rescue crew and clapped in appreciation.



Email Andrea Gallo at agallo@theadvocate.com