Zoe Trask Data News Weekly Contributor
Almost 15 years after Hurricane Rita which brought extensive wind damage to Lake Charles, the Category 4 storm, Hurricane Laura, made landfall in Lake Charles, on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. The devastation to Lake Charles prompted a visit by President Donald Trump on Aug. 29th to survey the damage.
After the storm left the Gulf Coast, Lake Charles was in its projected path to become one of the first areas affected by it. Due to the storm’s anticipated high wind speeds, heavy rainfall, and massive flooding, Louisiana officials urged residents to evacuate immediately on that Wednesday. Since the mandatory evacuation warning was of such short notice, many Lake Charles residents said they did not have an evacuation plan.
Carrie Tezeno, a Lake Charles resident, and custodian at A. A. Nelson Elementary School, said that her family was forced to evacuate through a special process.
“First, we went to College Oaks Elementary school,” Tezeno said. “Then, a school bus came and drove us to Burton Coliseum, where the National Guard were,” she added.
Like many other forced evacuees, they were completely unaware of their destination ahead.
“We didn’t know where we were going,” Tezeno said.
Eventually, Tezeno’s family and other evacuees arrived at the Hilton Riverside Hotel in New Orleans. Although residents said at the Hilton Riverside, they were granted a safe shelter, many of them struggled to get adjusted to the new circumstances. Tezeno’s 24-year-old autistic son was especially having a hard time getting used to an unfamiliar environment.
“Autistic people do not like change, and he’s one of them,” Tezeno said. “I showed him the pictures of our home, and I told him that we have no water and no lights. We have to stay here until we can go back,” she added.
Despite their devastating reality, Tezeno said she reassured her son to remain hopeful about the future.
“I comfort him, tell him that I love him, and we take turns watching our favorite TV programs,” she said.
While some evacuees said they are trying to cope with their situation, others said they were still curious about what had happened to their homes. Many of their initial thoughts about the hurricane involved whether or not their neighborhoods could withstand the storm’s winds.
Australia Malveaux, a Lake Charles resident who works as a Home Health Aide, said that she began to worry about the possible amount of damage that was soon to come.
“I was wondering how bad it was gonna be,” Malveaux said. “I heard that some of the other apartments on 5th Avenue were in bad shape,” she added.
Dozens of homes were completely demolished during the hurricane, and residents taking shelter in New Orleans and elsewhere said they were uncertain about how they are going to recover. Those that lived alone said they will have an especially difficult time rebuilding.
Jeffrey Cornelius, a 55-year-old Lake Charles resident, said that getting back on his feet alone will be a tough job.
“It’s gonna be hard to rebuild something that you can’t work with,” Cornelius said.
Not only were residents worried about their homes, they were also worried about their loved ones. It was up to those that remained in Lake Charles to save anyone that they could, including pets. However, the hurricane was too brutal even for animals. In addition to losing his home, Cornelius said that he lost his beloved pets to the storm.
“I have a best friend that was supposed to be taking care of my dogs, but the water was too high,” Cornelius stated. “He couldn’t save them,” he added.
Although many residents are grieving their recent losses, some were already mourning before the storm. Mary Francis, a Lake Charles resident, and grandmother said that the current year was already off to a rough start.
“2020 just kicked off wrong for me,” Francis said. “One of my older brothers passed away, and it has been downhill since then. There is no recovering from that,” she added.
The State of Louisiana and the rest of the country had suffered plenty of hardships throughout 2020. With the current unemployment rate, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and transitional homelessness, residents said they are still uncertain about regaining their normal lives again. Despite all of this, they said they were trying to remain positive by holding on to their faith.
“I trust and believe in God and put everything into his hands,” Cornelius said.
How You Can Help Hurricane Laura Victims:
Saint Catherine of Siena Parish Church- To view their relief efforts, go to
https://scschurch.com/laura. Contact them at (504) 835- 9343.
United Way of Southeast Louisiana- To donate, go to https://www.unitedwaysela.org, to give hygienic supplies go to United Way, 2515 Canal St., Monday, and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Contact them at (504) 822-5540.
Junior League Donation Drop Off- To donate clothing, go to Junior League, 4319 Carondelet St., Monday, and Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Contact them at (504) 891-5845.
Second Harvest Food Bank- To donate, go to Hurricane Laura Response
Salvation Army- To donate, go to give.helpsalvationarmy.org
Red Cross- To donate, go to Hurricane Laura: Disaster Relief Donations | Red Cross
AmeriCares- To donate, go to Hurricane Laura Dedicated Relief Fund