The Calcasieu Parish Police Jury’s decision to lift the mandatory evacuation, effective Sept. 11, was quickly met with criticism on social media. Some residents said it was too soon, considering how many households were severely damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Laura, the tens of thousands of residents without electricity, and a lack of clean water.

But Parish Administrator Bryan Beam said local elected officials agreed it was time for displaced residents to return and check the conditions of their homes. He added that essential services are returning, and lifting the mandatory evacuation is a necessary step in getting businesses to reopen.

“It was a judgement call; it was not an easy one,” Beam said Sunday. “We knew when it was lifted that each person needed to make his or her own decision, based on the situation. We trust the citizens to do that.”

Police Jury President Tony Guillory signed the executive order that lifted the mandatory evacuation, which had been in place since Aug. 25. During a Sept. 11 press conference, Beam said services remain limited, and residents who choose to stay in the parish should prepare to be self-sufficient. The 7 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew remains in place. Residents staying at out-of-town hotels were told to not cancel their reservations.

Immediately after Hurricane Laura’s landfall, Beam said the initial emergency response consisted of search and rescue, clearing roads of debris and reestablishing communication.

“We didn’t recommend people coming back during that time,” he said.

Over the last two weeks, the parish has resumed services, including water, sewer, garbage collection, law enforcement, fire protection and mosquito control. The most important factor in lifting the mandatory evacuation was assuring adequate medical services at area hospitals, Beam said.

“We needed people to come back after that long and feel safe that they could get water and medical services,” he said.

Beam stressed the need for businesses, like grocery and drug stores, banks, gas stations and medical clinics, to reopen after the storm.

“Some of those have been open, but you can’t do that on a large scale if you have an evacuation,” he said. “There are many needs to get the parish up and running again. You have to have people to operate all those businesses that are needed.”

Several posts on Facebook questioned the timing of an announcement by Golden Nugget that the casino floor would open Sept. 12, one day after the mandatory evacuation was lifted.

“The casinos had no impact on the decision at all,” Beam said. “All businesses are looked at.” 

Beam said local officials understand residents are frustrated with waiting for power to be fully restored parishwide. Waiting “until you have perfect conditions before people are allowed back in on a larger scale” was not the right move, he said.

“We all want power to come back quicker,” Beam said. “We fully realize this is a bad situation. But you have to allow things to resume and trust people to make good decisions.”

Margaret Harris, customer service representative with Entergy Louisiana, said Sunday that power is available to 40,000 customers in Calcasieu Parish and portions of Cameron Parish. Just over 90,000 customers were without power immediately after Hurricane Laura’s landfall.

“It’s a major restoration and rebuild,” Harris said of getting power fully restored. 

Lifting the mandatory evacuation order does not impact residents who were evacuated by bus to non-congregate shelters, Beam said. He said the state is working with FEMA and the American Red Cross of Louisiana to continue providing shelters for those individuals.

Beam said local officials met Sept. 12 with state officials, along with FEMA and Red Cross officials, to discuss short- and long-term housing options in the parish.

“House is a thing we are focused on, and it’s the highest priority right now,” he said. “A lot of people either had major damage to where homes aren’t liveable or are a total loss.”

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