A tornado strike damaged around 40 homes in the Lake Charles area on Wednesday, leaving at least one man who was inside a collapsed house hospitalized and injuring a second person while causing residents who had just finished rebuilding from last year’s hurricanes to face doing so again.
The strike occurred as a severe line of storms tore through the region. A Calcasieu Parish transit building and another one next door were also damaged but it was unclear if a tornado or heavy winds caused the destruction, parish spokesman Tom Hoefer said. Three buses in the parish building also had minor damage.
At least one tornado also appeared to pass through the northwest corner of Calcasieu Parish, but there were no reports of damage there, said Dick Gremillion, the parish's emergency preparedness director.
In a residential neighborhood outside the Lake Charles city limits in Calcasieu Parish, around 40 houses were damaged from a tornado. Around 25 to 30 of those homes received major damage, said Gremillion.
The National Weather Service classified the tornado as an EF2 with estimated peak winds of 130 mph, whose path was 2.2 miles long and 300 yards wide. It reported significant structural damage to around a dozen homes.
Personal belongings and pieces of roof were strewn across the neighborhood in the aftermath of the strike.
One house all but completely collapsed with a family of four inside along with a dog and a cat. The father of the family was taken to a hospital with serious cuts on his foot and leg, but he was expected to recover, relatives said as they stood amid the home’s ruins, a television still somehow mounted on a wall but the roof gone and other parts of the interior piled like matchsticks.
Next door, Ryan Nettles’ home also had major damage though much of the house was still standing. The garage was completely destroyed, the top of it thrown into a nearby yard.
Nettles, 44, said he had recently finished repairs from the hurricanes and he and his wife were just settling in to being empty-nesters after his youngest child moved out. Friends and neighbors rushed to help, including by tarping the roof and sweeping up strewn belongings as the rain came down.
“We’ll pull together and we’ll do it again,” Nettles, the 44-year-old owner of a swimming pool business, said in the dining room of the house, its windows blown out. “I don’t know why we keep doing it. I’ve got a business here in town so I’ve got to rebuild and get going.”
Across the street, Glen Prejean, 69, was picking up debris blown into his front yard. He, too, had just finished rebuilding from the hurricanes. His house appeared to escape major damage from the tornado, but still had broken windows and a broken door.
"I was standing in my door. It was raining pretty hard," he said. "Seemed like half the neighborhood blew by, and the wind kicked up to 60, 70 mph. I told my wife, ‘grab the dog! get in the closet!’ Jumped in the closet like that and in 10 seconds it was over.”
A second person was reported injured after a window blew into her home, the National Weather Service said.
The Lake Charles area was hit by Hurricane Laura, one of the worst storms in state history, in August 2020. It was followed six weeks later by Hurricane Delta, then a winter storm in February and severe flooding in May. Several thousand people are believed to still be displaced.
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter offered "prayers for anyone affected by the weather events today."
"Earliest reports indicate that the vast majority of the damage from tornadoes and bad weather earlier today occurred outside the city limits of Lake Charles," he posted on Facebook. "To be clear, there was some damage inside city limits, just not on the scale we are seeing in unincorporated areas."
The region has been struggling to recover from the previous four storms. Businesses and apartment complexes still sit in ruins, while blue tarps on roofs remain a common sight.
Local leaders have been urging Congress and the federal government to approve more long-term disaster relief for the region. So far, around $600 million has been allocated for long-term recovery from Hurricanes Laura and Delta, though several more steps are required before the money can be delivered.
Officials in the region say the amount is both too little and too late, particularly in comparison with other regions that have received far more relief dollars in a far shorter time period.