If Lake Charles and its southwest Louisiana neighbors have an utmost dread — what could be worse than Hurricane Laura? — it is this: That their fellow Louisianians and Americans will forget the plight that region endured since the Aug. 27 landfall. Southwest Louisiana needs help — our help — and will continue to need it.
The damage toll continues to climb as people in hardest-hit Calcasieu and Cameron parishes sifted through the wreckage of their lives. Many remained without electrical power this week, many remained without water fit for drinking.
What they’ve got in abundance is damage and debris. Power lines — some nearly impossible to reach — are down, roof damage is ubiquitous and hope, alas, may be dwindling in some corners. Southwest Louisiana has weathered some of the most damaging hurricanes on record, including the killer storm Audrey in 1957 and mammoth storms like Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008. Comes now Laura, Category 4 with 150 mph winds, which may have been the rowdiest of the lot.
For those Louisianans who weathered the storm, whose homes were preserved by accidents of good fortune, Hurricane Laura should nonetheless be too formidable to forget. But there’s more than one reason why our neighbors to the west may be on to something when they worry about whether America will lend a helping hand, not the least of which is that 2020 has placed so many hard challenges before the nation and world. Among these are a deadly pandemic, notorious incidents of police-related deaths, street violence in American cities, a bitter election. A hurricane that flattened a mid-size American city? Get in line, 2020 might say.
“Unfortunately, Hurricane Laura, like Hurricane Rita in 2005, has become the forgotten storm on the national scene,” wrote Jim Beam, of the American Press in Lake Charles. “The coronavirus pandemic, presidential election and citizen protests around the country have crowded out the hurricane news.” Lake Charles has been there before, suffering in the shadows of other tragic turns.
On the ground, many families are getting help from volunteers from faith-based groups; donations headed by a $1 million gift from Walmart Foundation have come to the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana. Money is paying for relief in the region and aid to families evacuated to New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Ben Broussard, spokesman for Catholic Charities of Acadiana, said that typically bad news like that in southwestern Louisiana has a shelf life — a few weeks, tops — when the nation pays attention. That’s before America’s attention is drawn elsewhere, oftentimes to the next crisis. That’s when those most afflicted must carry on, oftentimes alone.
Lake Charles is an amiable town where petrochemicals and shipping have boomed. But it lacks the panache of New Orleans, the political power of Baton Rouge and the personality of Lafayette’s Cajun and Creole culture. That region is depending upon the kindness of others in south Louisiana and beyond.
That’s us. Will we be there when our neighbors need us?