In storm-torn Southwestern Louisiana, progress can be measured by the cubic yard, as in how many cubic yards of debris have been cleared from the low-lying landscape that rests between Jefferson Davis Parish and the Texas line.
Bryan Beam, Calcasieu Parish administrator, had a ballpark guestimate that exceeds 10,658,191, which was the total collected and removed by Dec. 20. And counting.
The clean-up work may seem to never end but it will, someday: Beam, whose job includes keeping track of such things, says the total debris removed may yet reach 12,688,323 cubic yards — another guestimate, but one you can track. Right now, he says, the parish is about 85% done with sweeping away the remnants of this most recent hurricane-season ruin.
The tab for that clean-up, at $20 per cubic yard, may run to a quarter-billion dollars. Here’s what you buy for that money, Beam says, subtraction from Calcasieu Parish of enough debris to fill the Super Dome — twice.
“We know where the debris is,” Beam said. “It takes time.”
The 2020 hurricane season was unbearably cruel, but in few places more so than in southwestern Louisiana, which was ravaged by Hurricane Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008. Scientific American said this storm season, which ended Dec. 1, surpassed ’05 with the most named storms on record: 30. Six hit the U.S. — that’s happened twice, in 1886 and 1985 — and two hurricanes — Laura on Aug. 27 and Delta on Oct. 9 — roiled Southwestern Louisiana. Laura brought 150 mph winds; Delta, 20 inches of rain.
Beam said for the first time in recent weeks, people discuss things other than hurricanes. Some businesses have reopened; construction abounds. There’s so much left to do, but this much is almost done: initial clean-up.
When the last cubic yard is swept away, Calcasieu Parish and outlying areas will see not the beginning of the end — hurricane recovery is measured in years or decades, not months — but the end of the beginning. To begin again, you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing, got to believe that the slow slog to recovery is worthwhile.
Two centuries back, Lake Charles and environs represented “no man’s land,” a strip of ungoverned land that separated colonial Spain and the U.S. while boundaries were hashed out after the Louisiana Purchase. It’s no man’s land no more; it belongs to 200,000-plus people in Calcasieu and its neighboring parishes, people who’ve endured wind and rain and disaster but built and rebuilt something better. It is home.
Christmas season 2020 was quieter in grim-faced Lake Charles, save for the hum and clatter of construction. New Year’s may be quieter, too, but resolutions are apparent and speak loudly:
Build it back. Better. Stronger.