As southwest Louisiana recovers from the back-to-back hurricanes that hammered the region this year, signs of progress compete with lingering evidence of mass destruction. The fallen trees that carpeted neighborhoods have mostly been chopped up and hauled away, but the roofs they devoured are still covered in blue tarps. Piles of debris still line the roads.
In a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, a deeply divisive election and a national reckoning on race, some worry that the hurricanes and their destruction have not gotten the kind of attention that normally leads to an outpouring of support.
Aid efforts after Laura and Delta have only garnered about 25% of the volunteers and donations as other storms affecting the region, such as 2005’s Hurricane Rita, said Denise Durel, president and CEO of the United Way of Southwest Louisiana.
Hurricane Laura roared ashore in southwestern Louisiana on Aug. 27 as a Category 4 storm just south of Lake Charles. On Oct. 9, recovering residents watched as Category 2 Delta swept in just a few miles away. What didn’t get scoured by Laura’s winds was swamped by Delta’s rains. Delta also ripped off the tarps that had gone up on roofs after Laura.
According to Louisiana government figures, nearly 47,000 homes were damaged by Hurricane Laura, with about 16,000 of those in need of major repairs. The bulk of those homes are in Calcasieu Parish, home to the state’s fifth-largest city, Lake Charles, with 80,000 residents. In the less-populated Cameron Parish on the Gulf of Mexico, many homes were simply erased by Laura.
Initial estimates from disaster modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. put the combined insured U.S. losses from Laura and Delta at nearly $10 billion.
Wilfred Trahan remembers driving home for the first time after Laura and seeing every telephone pole for miles snapped at the base. Roof after roof smashed. Like many homes, his two-story house looked OK from the outside but told a different story inside. His chimney had smashed through the roof and he estimated he lost about 80% of his shingles, leading to extensive water damage. The house had to be gutted.
Now he commutes back and forth from Lafayette, about 75 miles (121 kilometers) away, where he and his wife are living in a hotel.
Sometimes he stays overnight with family or friends whose houses survived. On a recent day, he arrived at his property at 6 a.m. only to find that the contractor who was supposed to meet him there was a no-show. He counts himself lucky because he has a fence — albeit a damaged, lopsided one — surrounding his backyard. That means he can put supplies there and they don’t get stolen overnight.
“Everybody’s fighting for the same contractors,” he said. “It’s been crazy.”