Chance encounter brings two families together during time of need

Published 9:51 pm Wednesday, September 1, 2021

A chance meeting during a June 2020 vacation in Destin, Fla., led to a friendship between Brandi and Bradley Burdett of Kenner and Andrea and Brian Bourgeois of Lake Charles.

Their friendship would grow even stronger following the landfall of two Category 4 hurricanes — Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27, 2020, and Hurricane Ida on Sunday.

Brandi and her children, Brody, 11, and Brianna, 9, have been in Lake Charles since evacuating Kenner the day before Ida’s landfall. Bradley decided to stay in Kenner.

“We felt like we needed to get out before Ida hit,” Burdett said Wednesday. “I just didn’t feel safe staying home. It was very emotional walking away from our home and (Bradley).”

Burdett posted on Facebook her concerns about Ida. Brian Bourgeois’ mother, Martha Bourgeois, commented, saying she and her husband, Thomas, could host them in Lake Charles.

“We are forever grateful they opened their home for us to come here until it’s safe for us to come home,” Burdett said.

The relationship between the Burdetts and the Bourgeois families began during the Florida vacation last year. The trip, an annual tradition for the Burdetts since 2005, was slightly different last year, Burdett said.

“Usually we rebook the same week every year,” she said. “We had to switch our dates, and (Andrea and Brian) happened to be at the same complex where we stay.”

The two families went from exchanging simple hellos to having conversations over the course of the vacation.

“I guess it’s just part of southern hospitality,” she said. “We became friends and exchanged phone numbers to stay in contact.”

Andrea Bourgeois said the Burdett family is like an extended family.

“It felt like we were kinfolks who hadn’t seen one another in years and needed to catch up,” she said.

As Hurricane Laura was approaching Southwest Louisiana, Burdett said her family reached out to Andrea and Brian, who already had a place to stay. After seeing Laura’s widespread destruction, Burdett said they knew the Southwest Louisiana community still needed help.

That help came in the form of food. Burdett said Bradley served 1,200 plates of jambalaya and 600 plates of spaghetti during his first trip to the area. A second trip saw 1,200 pulled pork sandwiches served and more jambalaya served.

“He’s done that for other hurricanes in the past,” Burdett said. “That’s the one way he feels he can give back to the community and help them just get back on their feet a little.”

Burdett said their home in Kenner was spared any major damage from Ida’s wind gusts, which reached 100 miles per hour. Other homes just a block away weren’t as fortunate, she said.

“There are a lot of trees and power lines down,” she said.

Burdett said communication with her husband is limited. Power could take three weeks to be restored, and water may not be available for five days. Residents in Southeast Louisiana are waiting in line for hours to get gasoline.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “We’re taking it day by day.”

“There are no FEMA stations or distribution sites set up,” Burdett said. “With so many people who stayed during the storm, it’s hard to maintain the status of remaining in their home and not having to evacuate, post hurricane.”

Burdett said she spoke with Bradley briefly Wednesday before he had to return to work. A lineman and boat operator, she said he is currently searching for boats that went missing during Ida’s landfall, as well as barges that broke off.

Burdett said Bradley reached out on Facebook, asking if Ida victims need food. She said he got in touch with a local restaurant to use their leftover frozen food to cook for residents in the Kenner and Metairie areas and for local firefighters and law enforcement.

With power expected to be out for weeks, the Bourgeois have offered their home for as long as it’s needed, Burdett said. Had it not been for that chance meeting in Destin, she said they would have had to seek shelter elsewhere.

“It’s crazy how God brings people together,” she said. “We met this family and built a relationship with them. We have been a big part of each other’s life during difficult times.”

Andrea Bourgeois echoed those comments.

“When they heard we were in need after Laura, they didn’t hesitate to help us and our community,” she said. “Now, we can do the same for them. It’s what families do for one another.”

Burdett said she has seen how natural disasters bring people together.

“It’s not just next door neighbors coming together, it’s neighboring cities. It’s us as Americans coming together, regardless of what our differences are.”