I’m taking a break from my series on COVID-19 data to talk about something more pressing – our state’s recovery from Hurricane Laura.
If, like me, you’ve spent many years in Louisiana, you’ve dealt with a lot of hurricanes that caused a lot of damage and destruction. I have memories of my childhood home in Morgan City being pummeled so hard by Hurricane Betsy in 1965 (I was a preschooler!) that water was blowing through the bricks and into the sheetrock. The walls of our brand-new house were flexing, like the house was “breathing,” and a telephone pole dropped right onto our roof. Terrifying. Let’s just say my family never stayed for any other hurricane after that one.
I still remember the blank looks and terrified children among the 23 people, most of whom I’d never met, who sheltered with me and my family in 2005, post-Katrina. Some of them stayed with us for a year, even putting their kids into schools in our district, where my kids went. We had 23 humans, 10 dogs and a bird! What an adventure that was.
And you can rattle off the list of the big storms that have happened over the years: Camille, Katrina, Rita, Gustav, the list goes on and on. And now, Laura. On Aug. 26, Laura hit western Louisiana near the Texas border with 150-miles-an-hour winds. Thankfully, the 20-foot-high storm surge that was predicted by the weather services did not happen, and the flooding levels were lower.
As I write this week, there are six parishes without power or even water to drink. I just watched a Calcasieu Parish School Board official in Lake Charles say on the news that even when water and power come back on, 3% — yes, I said only 3% — of school buildings are usable. In fact, all Calcasieu Parish public schools are closed until further notice.
Clearly, we’ve got a long way to go in getting our friends and neighbors in the southwest region of our state back on their feet. In fact, if you’re looking for a way to help, click here for a list of handy, Blue Cross approved links/phone numbers. There are also resources for those who are looking for help.
Hurricane Health in the Time of COVID-19
One thing I can’t help but notice is how COVID-19 has changed the way our state responded to the storm.
First of all, you can put FAR fewer people in a shelter or on a bus now because we have to maintain safe social distancing guidelines. That became a huge deal when a mandatory evacuation was issued for a couple of entire parishes before the storm. Since COVID-19 caused many people to cut way back on traveling or staying in hotels, authorities were able to place many evacuees in hotels. From Lafayette to New Orleans and up to Alexandria, hotels are filling up. As with so much else that’s happened in the time of COVID-19, we have to adjust our hurricane sheltering and evacuation plans.
Second, when people go to aid sites set up by churches and the Red Cross, you’ll notice they are spreading people out at least six feet apart, wearing masks and/or serving them in cars, not encouraging them to get out and mingle. Again, responsible behavior when our state is getting kicked by a storm after a rough time in the COVID-19 pandemic. Good folks are trying hard not to make things worse.
Importantly, for southwest Louisiana, most of the clinics and hospitals are closed because they are unable to get running water or power, and they can only take in the most dire emergency cases. Only their emergency departments remain functional and those are at reduced capacity, so even the people who were hospitalized there because of COVID-19 have been evacuated to other facilities that have power and running water, to better care for them.
This is one of those cases where I know people feel like we’re getting kicked while we are down. I feel it too, as I communicate with folks who lost their houses and livelihoods to another hurricane. But, I see some positive developments as well that I think we all need to zero in on during this time of stress.
Follow along with me on these too, don’t just focus on the scary stuff.
Hope Keeps Us Calm, Courage Keeps Us Strong
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has already made aid available, and 50,000 people signed up in the first three days. The system has solid records so far, and it seems to be working. As of Sept. 4, FEMA and the federal government already have hundreds of people on the ground, doing inspections. That will let people start working toward recovery faster. (For the latest on FEMA declarations and everything associated with the state’s recovery, go to https://hurricanelaura.la.gov/.)
The Red Cross has set up multiple distribution centers in southwest Louisiana and are feeding meals to thousands every day. They also are giving out tarps, cleaning supplies, rakes and a host of other things people need to start putting their property back together.
The governor and even the president have visited storm-damaged areas and have promised huge amounts of aid to get the rebuilding started. The recovery is just getting going, and I’ve been watching local mayors and sheriffs working really hard to clear roadways, repair water systems and restore power systems. Even the Louisiana National Guard has hundreds of troops in the affected areas now, helping clear the roads. Clearly, it’s a big team effort, and it’s one of the faster recoveries I’ve seen.
Check out this quote from Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter: “We are weeks ahead of where we were at this time in our Hurricane Rita  recovery!”
So far it seems the resilience of my friends and neighbors in Louisiana has kept the changes we have made due to Covid-19 from slowing down the recovery of Lake Charles and the surrounding areas, and that’s really good news especially considering the size and scale of the damages from Hurricane Laura. As we go out and help our neighbors, remember how effective wearing masks, washing hands and staying six feet apart can be – even in rough times!
Straight Talk is, this is the time Louisianans are famous for: opening their hearts, their prayers, their wallets and pocketbooks to help our brothers and sisters in need. I know you’re already doing it!