It’s a sad irony that the first draft of history recorded Lake Charles and the rest of Calcasieu Parish as fortunate, after a slight shift in Hurricane Laura’s path kept a projected deadly storm surge at bay.
No such luck. Rather than dodge a metaphorical bullet, the area was devastated by a different sort of hazard. Laura made landfall a year ago in Cameron Parish as a strong Category 4 storm packing 150 mile-per-hour winds, the fifth most powerful hurricane to ever strike the U.S. and the worst to hit Louisiana in a century and a half. Parish Administrator Bryan Beam compared it to a buzz saw coming through; if you had set out to cause maximum damage to Calcasieu, he said, "you would have designed Laura."
And the hits just kept coming, Hurricane Delta six weeks later, followed by a deep February freeze and a 1,000-year May flood, all against the backdrop of the coronavirus.
LAKE CHARLES — Next to a screen with a ticking clock showing the amount of time since Hurricane Laura’s devastating sweep through southwest Lo…
At another time and perhaps in a different place, these back to back to back to back disasters might have prompted Americans far and wide to rally on southwest Louisiana's behalf. Instead, residents of the region are facing yet another painful blow: Indifference, or what sure feels like it on the ground, from Washington and the rest of the U.S.
In a way, we get it. The disasters hit during a national pandemic and an all-consuming presidential contest, and had to compete for attention with other weather events that are becoming both more common and more extreme. Lake Charles doesn't hold the same place in the national imagination as bigger cities like New Orleans and New York do, nor does it carry much political clout. But its residents deserve no less sympathy, and certainly no less help, than survivors of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters have gotten.
“There’s a lot of Americans who don’t have Lake Charles on the Top 10 list of things wrong with the country," Mayor Nic Hunter said. "I guarantee you, after Katrina, there were a lot of Americans who had New Orleans on their minds. I was one of them. I'm asking for the same type of brotherly response from other Americans for us now."
As we approach the first anniversary of Hurricane Laura, the people of Southwest Louisiana would like to express our appreciation for the supp…
Topping the list of needs is a supplemental congressional appropriation through the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a housing program along the lines of the Road Home after Katrina and the Restore program set up following the 2016 Baton Rouge floods. The request, which has been the subject of frustrating delays and much finger-pointing in Washington, would help residents fill in the gap between insurance payouts and Small Business Administration loans and the cost of getting back into their homes — which, thanks to supply chain issues connected to the pandemic, has soared. In Lake Charles, Hunter pegged the insurance shortfall at $900 million, and that's not including damage from the freeze and flood.
It's not easy for people who pride themselves on being self-sufficient to ask for help, Hunter acknowledged, but the damage simply exceeds what local government, nonprofits and volunteers can fix.
“We don’t have the boots or the bootstraps to pull ourselves up locally,” he said.
Few communities would, if confronted by the same run of terrible events that Calcasieu Parish has faced. And no matter what else is happening around the country, no community should be asked to recover on its own, or be made to feel as if the rest of America has left it behind.