There’s a rising refrain from the Cameron Parish lowlands to downtown Lake Charles, which, a month ago, was the region’s brisk center of political leadership, commerce, dining and entertainment. It may become all of that again, someday.
That refrain has to do with a perception, becoming more painful each day, that the world outside of Cameron and Calcasieu parishes has forgotten about the plight of the people of southwestern Louisiana. The fear is the tragedy that befell that area Aug. 27 — Category 4 storm Hurricane Laura, which arrived with 150 mph winds, destroying much of what was in its path — will pass from the wider public’s memory.
That fear is not far-fetched. Since Laura leveled much of Cameron’s developed coastline and ravaged much of more populous metro Lake Charles, Hurricane Sally has delivered devastation to the Alabama and Florida coasts; Tropical Storm Beta has drawn a bead on Texas; and more storms may be on their way. So many storms, so little attention span.
In a pastoral letter released last week, Bishop Glen John Provost said Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter had expressed concern to him that Hurricane Laura will become the “forgotten storm.” Lake Charles and its forlorn neighbors can ill afford to be forgotten — their area is depending upon the kindness of both strangers and government aid. The damage toll is only rising.
In the midst of all the tragedy, that battered corner of the state might have taken some solace from a recent visit by some 50 volunteers, most of them dads and young sons connected to St. Thomas More High School in Lafayette, who organized a help mission and made the trek to Cameron Parish on a recent Saturday. There, they sifted through floodwater and moss grass and mud to do what they could to salvage what was left of some Cameron Parish churches.
By day’s end, they were dirty and hungry and weary. But to Carla Richard, a member of Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church and Shrine in Cameron, the visitors took on the appearance of “real angels” of a flesh-and-blood sort. A video captured the boys and dads lifting and carrying a heavy cross out of the battered church and to a flatbed on which it would be spirited away for safekeeping. The symbolism was profound.
Impromptu missions by volunteers alone cannot make up for billions of dollars in losses in southwestern Louisiana. That will take insurance money, FEMA and more.
But the appearance of friends, willing to lend labor and love, ought to remind our neighbors to the west that they are not alone, not forgotten, but ever in the hearts and minds of many fellow Louisianians.