LAKE CHARLES - This city tallied its losses from one of the worst floods in its history on Tuesday after powerful thunderstorms dumped up to 18 inches of rain over a short period in some areas, damaging hundreds of homes and buildings while stranding and displacing residents, some of whom rode in boats or waded to safety.
Monday’s storms were yet another blow to southwestern Louisiana, which is still rebuilding from last year’s hurricanes Laura and Delta and was also hit by a fierce winter storm in February. Another four to six inches of rain could fall through Thursday and possibly more in certain spots, according to the National Weather Service.
A surprise deluge wreaked havoc on south Louisiana communities this week, shutting down roads, closing businesses and flooding homes.
The city’s mayor, Nic Hunter, called Monday’s deluge the “third-heaviest rain event in the city of Lake Charles’s history.” Officials were still determining the amount of damage, but Hunter said it seemed 400 to 500 homes and structures were flooded at minimum, and the total will likely be more than in both of last year’s hurricanes combined in the city.
“It will eclipse what we traditionally consider a 100-year event,” Hunter said. “What we experienced yesterday was more rainfall than Hurricane Laura — in certain parts of the city of Lake Charles, more rainfall than Hurricane Delta.”
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Those suffering damage included residents who had just rebuilt from last year’s storms or were in the process of doing so. On Monday afternoon, sections of Ryan Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, were transformed into a shallow lake, with cars stranded and drivers maneuvering slowly through it, pushing waves over the curbsides.
The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office along with other agencies spent the afternoon and night carrying out rescue operations in boats and high-water vehicles for those who had taken on water in their homes and couldn’t leave on their own. Sheriff Tony Mancuso estimated that up to 600 people had been picked up, with the operation finally completed at around 11:00 p.m. on Monday night.
Many were taken to the Trinity Baptist Church campus in southern Lake Charles, where cots and air mattresses were spread across a gym floor and evacuees were provided with food and necessities. A total of 385 people had sheltered there, not including others who left after initially being transported to the church. By Tuesday afternoon, that number had dwindled to around 130.
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They included Dixie Ledoux, her daughter-in-law Jennifer Eastwood and Eastwood’s nine-month-old son, Peyton, who slept on an air mattress with his oxygen tube attached, needed because he was born premature. Ledoux, who struggles with Parkinson’s disease, also had her small chihuahua-terrier with her.
The family members fled four feet of water around Ledoux’s trailer that eventually entered the home. Eastwood, 36, and Ledoux’s son arrived to evacuate her and the infant, but they couldn’t drive close enough to the trailer.
Eastwood managed to carry her son out with Ledoux, 62, following behind and stumbling into the water at one point. The eventually made it to the truck, with a neighbor carrying Peyton’s heavy oxygen concentrator.
“I basically swam through the water to get him out and get her out, and then she fell down into the water,” Eastwood said. “We just went out there and we still can’t get in there. The water is even deeper.”
Another woman at the shelter, Jessica Jones, 47, said she rode in another resident’s boat after her son flagged it down to escape the floodwaters. She first arrived at a nearby store, then a second one before she arrived at the church.
“We walked up the road — me and my brother — to go up to the gas station to try to flag someone down,” said her son Alexander, 21. “Because my mom, she couldn’t wade through the water. She couldn’t walk up.”
Jessica Jones said: “I was scared going in that water.”
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Some schools had trouble getting kids home safely. At one elementary school, the last child was dropped off at 1:00 a.m., said Skylar Fontenot, who handles risk management for the Calcasieu Parish School Board.
The floods came less than two weeks after President Joe Biden visited Lake Charles and pledged help with storm recovery. Hunter said he had received a call from a White House representative and also spoke with Gov. John Bel Edwards, who had issued an emergency declaration on Monday night.
Edwards said Tuesday that four people had died during the storms that swept across south Louisiana, flooding parts of the Baton Rouge area as well as Lake Charles and several other parishes. During a press conference, he cautioned that more rain could be on the way and reflected on the hardships dealt to Lake Charles over the past year.
"Our hearts are truly breaking," Edwards said. "I'm sorry that you are having to deal with this again."
Hunter and other officials from the region have long pushed for federal storm relief money that they say is urgently needed to help rebuilding, and the mayor said he again raised the issue in his call with the White House.
“What happened yesterday has got to be a wakeup call to Washington D.C. that Lake Charles and southwest Louisiana's languishing right now. We need help,” Hunter said.
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“We are going to do our part. We are not sitting on our hands. We’re going to help each other. But there’s a finite amount of financial capital in this community, there’s a finite amount of human ability in this community, and the enormous magnitude of what has hit us in the last 14 months — the words unprecedented, historic, unthinkable, unfathomable, they just don’t seem to properly articulate what we are going through anymore,” he said.
Category 4 Laura, which hit the region in August, was the most powerful storm to hit Louisiana in terms of wind speed since 1856. Delta, a category 2 hurricane, followed six weeks later.
Lake Charles has estimated its storm-related housing needs alone at more than $230 million.