Hurricane Laura: Reflections on Lake Charles one year later

Micah Pickering
Leesville Daily Leader

One year has passed since Hurricane Laura struck Louisiana. The ramifications of the catastrophic storm are still being felt to this day. The devastation that occurred in Lake Charles was a historic disaster.  

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter spoke with the Beauregard Daily News and the Leesville Daily Leader about the damage done by Laura, and the lingering damage that still haunts the area. 

Hunter spoke about the challenges the city is still facing one year after Laura. Hunter explained how some areas of Lake Charles look as if Laura hit yesterday, instead of a year ago. 

"The housing needs are astronomical," said Hunter. "In the city of Lake Charles alone, the State Office of Community Development estimates the unmet housing need at $320 billion. That is a major problem, and a major obstacle for this community. When you go into some neighborhoods, you can see some stretches of road with homes that literally have not been touched since the hurricane."

Vincent Settlement Elementary in south Calcasieu Parish sustained significant damage from Hurricane Laura in August 2020. The school was closed for 61 instructional days.

Hunter expressed his concern with the lack of long-term recovery efforts from the U.S. government,  especially compared with past hurricane responses. 

"The response from the Federal Government has not been to the level that it has been in the aftermath other natural disasters," he said. "When it takes the federal government 10 days to respond after Hurricane Katrina, or 34 days to respond after Hurricane Andrew, or 98 days in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, but here we sit 365 days post-Laura. That is a massive problem for this community."

Hunter emphasized the need for community development block disaster grant recovery, citing the Road Home program as an example. 

The Road Home is a federal program designed to help residents after hurricanes Katrina and Rita rebuild or sell their storm-damaged homes. As of 2018, the program has issued approximately $9 billion in federal aid to 130,000 residents affected by Katrina and/or Rita. 

Ernest Jack moves near his home that was hit by Hurricane Laura ahead of Hurricane Delta in Lake Charles.

Conversely, Hunter stated that Lake Charles has received no such aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, and that the lack of aid is a "travesty and a failure."

Hunter said there are many state and federal leaders who could be  helping more than they have for Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana.

"People in this community deserve to know that there are a lot of people in Louisiana and in a lot of people in Washington D.C. that could and should be doing a lot more right now," said Hunter. "If people are not angry about it, they should be."

Hunter  said the lack of response and aid to Lake Charles should serve as a sobering warning to any communities that live in close proximity to a coastline. He noted that anyone living along the Gulf Coast and Eastern shoreline should pay close attention to what happened to Lake Charles in the aftermath of Laura, as they could easily be in the same position. 

"We got a really bad run over the last year, but there are millions of Americans who could be in the same position in the next year," Hunter said. "If this is the way that the federal government is going to start responding holistically to these events, then we should be concerned and, quite frankly, ashamed as Americans." 

NOAA's GOES-East satellite captured this image of Hurricane Laura on August 26, 2020 as it approached the Gulf Coast.

Hunter emphasized that Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana needs advocates now more than ever. He encourages people to log on to rebuildingswla.com and to visit the Rebuilding SWLA Facebook page. 

"We are Americans here in Southwest Louisiana, and we are asking our American brothers and sisters for help," he said. "[Individuals who want to help] can advocate on our behalf by visiting the website, writing a letter to Congress or sharing our story on social media."

Hunter reflected on the preparation and immediate aftermath of the storm and praised those who made a positive impact. He praised first responders, public safety officials, city employees, as well as state and federal agencies for their coordination during the unprecedented weather event. Hunter also expressed his pride in the evacuation effort.

"Looking back on it I am proud of the effort that was made," Hunter said. "I can very confidently say that we ran buses and ran city vehicles until the absolute last minute to get people out of Lake Charles. There should have been no one that wanted to leave that couldn't, and I am very proud of that effort."

He noted that due to the dedication that city employees showed during the crisis, Lake Charles was still able to function "at a core level" after the storm.

Hunter also praised the meteorologists for their in-depth analysis and their communication of life-saving information.

"I cannot speak highly enough of the meteorologists at the National Weather Service," Hunter said. "Their advice, their wisdom, and their counsel truly saved lives."