Beam column: My city resembles war zone

Jim Beam

LAFAYETTE — Lake Charles, La., my hometown for all but two years of military service, looks like a war zone because of the devastating winds of Hurricane Laura that cleared its destructive path through Southwest Louisiana on the morning of Aug. 27.
 
The front part of my home’s roof is gone, and there is interior water damage, but even that isn’t nearly as bad as some of my neighbors have had to endure. 
 
The home of Etienne and Betsy Stoupy and their two daughters, who live across the street, appears to be a total loss. The home of another neighbor around the corner lost its entire roof.
 
We drove through parts of the city Friday that we hadn’t seen before, and neighborhood after neighborhood looked exactly like my neighborhood. Trees are down everywhere, and the limbs and other debris are piled high next to most streets. You can hear chainsaws buzzing everywhere you go, and heavy equipment is moving everything imaginable.
 
Businesses weren’t spared, and it will take months for some of them to get back to normal. Blue roofs are seen in most places.
 
Most of my family has temporarily relocated to Lafayette like many others from Lake Charles, and some of us are making frequent trips to do what we can back home. Traffic on Interstate 10 is particularly heavy when you drive to Lake Charles in the morning and again when returning to Lafayette later in the day.
 
The hardest part of this devastation is having to live in another town and wonder whether the home you have lived in for 38 years will take on more damage before the necessary repairs are made. 
 
Getting work done is obviously going to take some time. Meanwhile, a temporary tarpaulin should keep out additional water damage. However, I did apply for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Blue Roof program since repairs and new roofing could be months down the road.
 
Our hosts in Lafayette have been extremely courteous and are making our stay as comfortable as possible. We could be here a long time because the destruction to Southwest Louisiana’s electrical power grid is historic, and water service is still a problem in some areas.
 
Staging areas for the 17,000 electrical workers from 29 states and others who have come to help restoration efforts are located everywhere there is the open space they need. 
 
McNeese State University, Sowela Technical Community College and the Calcasieu Parish School System have all experienced major structural damage.
 
State Farm gave me a list of recommended contractors of all kinds and asked me to call them to get estimates. I was able to reach four of five of them, but was only able to speak to three people. I had to leave my name and phone number elsewhere.
 
Two State Farm insurance adjusters spent two hours Friday looking over my home’s damage in order to come up with an estimate that is expected to take four or five days. One of the companies I reached was sending out an adjuster today.
 
One of the Friday adjusters said he has been making adjustments after many hurricanes. I asked him if he had ever worked after one as bad as this one, and he said this is the worst.
 
Thinking the mandatory evacuation order had ended, some insurance companies have been slow to reimburse displaced policyholders for living expenses elsewhere. The order is still in effect because of the absence of electrical power and water service. A copy of that order and other documents are available on the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury’s website (www.calcasieuparish.gov).
 
Local, state and federal government agencies and service, charitable and church organizations have been life-savers. The Louisiana National Guard has turned in one of its finest performances.
 
Unfortunately, Hurricane Laura, like Hurricane Rita in 2005, has become the forgotten storm on the national scene. The coronavirus pandemic, presidential election and citizen protests around the country have crowded out the hurricane news.
 
A writer for The Advocate of Baton Rouge said he felt hurricane coverage had been slighted nationally and was planning to do a story. I told him I agreed and so did many other evacuees and those who stayed behind to try and weather the storm.
 
The fact that Hurricane Laura was the strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana since 1856 and the fifth worst in the country merited much more coverage than it has received.
 
Nevertheless, we will survive, just as we have after other hurricanes have hit Louisiana. However, it’s definitely going to take years to get Lake Charles and Calcasieu Parish back to something resembling normalcy.
 
Keep us in your prayers.

The pavilion at Lock Park on downtown Ryan Street took a hit from Hurricane Rita.

Rick Hickman

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