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BATON ROUGE — Any hopes we had that Hurricane Laura would be kinder to the Lake Charles area than Rita was in 2005 were dashed quickly the closer the dangerous lady got to our shores.
Most of us who had hoped we could ride out Laura since Marco fizzled out near New Orleans decided there was no need to look for safer quarters elsewhere. Unfortunately, Laura grew stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and forecasters started talking about 150-mile-per-hour winds. 
When the powers-that-be issued a mandatory evacuation order, few quibbled over the decision. We knew it was time to move — and move fast.
My daughter-in-law, grandson and I had hotel rooms in Baton Rouge, thinking three days of provisions and clothes would be more than enough. Laura had other ideas. We eventually went to bed Wednesday evening after listening to some awfully scary news. 
By the time we got up Thursday, the situation was worse than we could have ever imagined. Experts and weather officials called Hurricane Laura the fifth strongest storm to make landfall in the United States and “the most powerful storm ever to make landfall in Louisiana.” It was also the first in memory to maintain major hurricane strength as it traveled through the state.
For those of us who were alive to see the results of Hurricane Audrey that hit Cameron Parish in 1957, that is an astounding statement. I was in the U.S. Army at the time and was given leave from Ft. Benning, Ga., in order to head for Lake Charles and Cameron.
I entered Cameron Parish the minute it was opened in order to help an aunt clean up her house next to the parish courthouse. There was devastation everywhere and most of the homes in the parish were destroyed. There was only a big hole in the ground where my grandfather’s two-story home had been.
Nearly 500 lives were lost in that storm, so it still has to rate as a major hurricane. However, the difference this time is the fact that Audrey —for the most part —spared Lake Charles, Westlake, Sulphur, Vinton, and Iowa. Hurricane Laura has dealt all of those cities some real, long-time misery.
A Lake Charles resident told The Advocate, “We knew when we left there was a chance of coming back to nothing. But nothing like this.”
Don Robinson, who stayed in his home, told the newspaper, “It was horrible, man. I’m 59 years old and I always thought I wasn’t afraid of anything, but she (Hurricane Laura) put fear in me. Now I realize, if I don’t have nowhere to go, I’ll run in my Tahoe until I run out of gas and that might be a better place to survive.”
We only lucked out in one area. The 20 feet of water surge that had been forecast never materialized, and that was because the center of the storm went ashore about 40 miles east of the mouth of the Sabine River. The people of Cameron Parish didn’t get an early warning about the expected surge in 1957, and many were trapped when the surge hit in the early morning hours.
As for Laura, more bad news was definitely our destiny. Entergy had 543,000 homes in Louisiana without electric power. By Friday, evaluations about what’s next kept thousands of electrical workers hunkered down in cities across the southern part of the state awaiting orders about where they would be needed.
A spokeswoman for Entergy said it would be some time before homeowners would see linemen working in their neighborhoods. The short closure of the Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River also slowed movement of some of those electrical workers.
Next to the loss of power, Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter had more bad news. Of the city’s six water plants, Hunter said one was pulverized, two weren’t working and the other three were working minimally.
The loss of water caused Lake Charles Memorial Hospital to transfer all of its patients to other hospitals in the state. People are finding out quickly that living without electrical power and water is a double whammy that makes life next to impossible.
The Louisiana Department of Health said some 67 water systems are inoperable because of the storm. It added that more than 209,000 people might not have access to water for drinking and other uses.
Calcasieu Sheriff Tony Mancuso said anyone going into Lake Charles to survey damage or to repair homes or businesses had better bring everything they need. There isn’t much available locally because of the loss of power and water. And he said they need to be out of town by curfew time because his deputies will be out there patrolling in order to protect the property of the many thousands out of town because of the storm.
The Advocate in a Friday editorial talked about Hurricane Rita that hit this area in 2005, just less than a month after Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans area. Some in Southwest Louisiana considered Rita to be the forgotten storm because of Katrina.
Laura’s path of destruction was 40 miles wide. 
Gov. John Bel Edwards said, “The devastation and damage stretch from Southwest Louisiana all the way through North Louisiana, with more than a half a million power outages remaining, tens of thousands of people displaced from their homes and, sadly, at least 10 lives lost.” 
Four died when trees fell on homes, one drowned in a boat and five people died from carbon monoxide linked to the use of generators.
The newspaper concluded, “Above all, we can’t allow the victims of Laura to feel, or be, forgotten in our response,” adding “in this extraordinary year of different disasters.”
My son, Bryan, Calcasieu Parish Administrator, who rode out the storm with other public officials, set the tone for when we might be able to return to our homes to stay.
“Don’t think in terms of days, Dad,” he said. “Think in terms of weeks.”

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