‘Help Southwest Louisiana Now’ emphasizes lackluster response from national leaders

Community leaders from across Southwest Louisiana have announced the launch of the “Help Southwest Louisiana Now” campaign. During the conference, moderated by Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter, it was declared that Help Southwest Louisiana Now is an effort to bring national attention to the region’s continued plight after experiencing four federally declared national disasters in less than one year.

“This is not about us,” Hunter said, pointing to the standing room-only conference room. “Today is about the tens of thousands of people in Southwest Louisiana and throughout the state of Louisiana that have been affected.”

Hunter said he has received countless declarations of prayers, encouragement and support but no federal supplemental disaster relief for the region by way of Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery. “Everyone that visited from out of state said, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God. Supplemental disaster aid will certainly materialize,’ yet 334 days later, no such aid has reached the region.”

The federal government’s response to Southwest Louisiana pales in comparison to its response to other historic natural disasters in the past, Hunter added. “Why are we 334 days post-Laura and we don’t have the same response that came 10 days after Hurricane Katrina, 34 days after Andrew and 98 days after Super Storm Sandy?”

Kind words from leaders and politicians don’t go far combined with the lackluster response the region has received over the last year.

“Words of support can’t put a roof back on a struggling family’s home. Words of support and encouragement can’t fix an air conditioner for a disabled individual living in the August heat in Southwest Louisiana. We’re talking about helping the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Hunter said he holds onto hope that President Biden’s administration and Congress will take the opportunity now and act. When he spoke on the phone with Biden, Hunter said he was “talking to someone I truly felt cared.”

“Today, I thank President Biden and members of Congress who’ve offered words of support, encouragement and prayers, but I plead for an official request for CDBGDR for this community. It’s time for the words of encouragement, prayers and support to turn into tangible action.”

Community members and business leaders also spoke on behalf of the region’s need for supplemental disaster assistance. Brian Abshire, Calcasieu Parish Police Jury president, said with 12,000 housing units made uninhabitable after Hurricanes Laura and Delta, additional assistance is a must for residents to return home.

“Our community has done what’s right, now we ask our nation’s leaders to do what’s right,” he said.

Clair Hebert Marceaux, Cameron Port, Harbor and Terminal District director, said the parish plays a pivotal role in the global economy with $50 billion in liquid natural gas export construction, as one of the nation’s only two strategic petroleum reserves and the third largest exporter of LNG among the world’s nations. “We deserve the opportunity to recover and become even stronger than we were before Hurricane Laura and Delta made landfall 12 miles apart…Time is ticking away.”

With enrollment down by 4,000 students, Chantrelle Brehm, a Calcasieu Parish School Board educator, said it’s important to remember the region’s youngest victims in the midst of the disasters as well. Students have been commuting from as far as New Orleans because they do not have adequate housing locally, she said, and the damaged classrooms are a painful reminder of the damaged homes of teachers and students.

“The mental instability to teachers and students— it’s very hard to come to school and still be present…But we still have to be strong, put on our capes and be strong for our babies,” she said.

“It’s time for us to open our ears and hear the internal and external cries of people.”

Hunter ended the press conference urging citizens state-wide to raise their voices in support of Southwest Louisiana. “We don’t have the bandwidth in Southwest Louisiana. We don’t have the numbers. We’ve got to appeal to the rest of this state and the rest of this state has to realize the pain that we’re going through. We are your brothers and sisters in Southwest Louisiana and we matter.”

A powerful video recapping the woes of Southwest Louisiana is housed on Help Southwest Louisiana Now’s website. Hunter encouraged citizens to view the video and share it on social media to “keep the story alive.”

Letters to federal leaders can also be easily sent via the website, he added. Learn more at www.RebuildingSWLA.com.

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