A bruised Lafayette well-positioned to help its western neighbors

Image courtesy The Acadiana Advocate
Hurricane Laura's winds ripped the entrance canopy off of a commercial structure in Lake Charles.

The gist:  While Louisiana was spared some of the worst-case flooding that models had predicted, parts of Calcasieu and Cameron parishes are reeling from the impact of Hurricane Laura. Acadiana, while bruised in some areas, is for the most part positioned to help its western neighbors get back on their feet. 

Tens of thousands of residents don’t have electricity, water. While electricity is being restored in some areas, it could still be weeks before it and water are fully restored. That means even those whose homes were spared are looking for housing, and Lafayette’s an obvious destination.

“This didn’t really go like we thought it was going to here, which we really feel fortunate,” says Lafayette Habitat for Humanity’s Melinda Taylor, who chairs the Acadiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, more commonly known as VOAD. “What we now are going to do with the situation we have, which is shaping up in some ways to kind of resemble what happened [in 2005]; there’s a lot of people here who were displaced from the Lake Charles area.” 

A coronavirus-weary hospital system couldn’t catch a break. Calcasieu Parish’s water infrastructure was so badly damaged by Laura that its largest hospital, Lake Charles Memorial, had to evacuate its 146 patients, after being told it, too, could have to wait weeks for water. Our Lady of Lourdes’ parent company announced early Friday afternoon that its hospitals took in patients, including 10 NICU babies at Women’s & Children’s in Lafayette and four inpatient adults at Our Lady of Lourdes’ main campus here. More were expected at OLOL later Friday. 

Taylor says VOAD is still in response mode. The group hasn’t yet hit the recovery phase, and will have more information on relief efforts in the days to come as locals coordinate with state and federal officials. “Right now we’re trying to just set up some mechanisms to get basic necessities to people who are in hotels who don’t have the resources to secure things for themselves like food and basic essentials they may need,” Taylor says. 

Facing weeks without water, Lake Charles Memorial Hospital was forced to evacuate all of its patients, some to Lafayette hospitals. (Image courtesy The Acadiana Advocate)

Almost 600 hotel rooms in the general Lafayette area were booked with evacuees ahead of the storm. Taylor notes that could impact the ongoing program that has area homeless people temporarily living in hotels as shelter from the pandemic. Earlier this month, state housing officials asked regional partners to stop taking people into the de facto shelters, signaling that the program is likely to end soon, leaving many without anywhere else to go.

“The bottleneck is trying to find affordable, permanent housing for people,” Taylor notes. “It’s proving very difficult, and this is going to exacerbate that situation.”

The state also reserved blocks of rooms for evacuees. Mainly because of coronavirus concerns, the Edwards administration booked 1,705 hotel rooms for people who needed government help, securing rooms in 16 hotels in Baton Rouge, Houma, New Orleans and Shreveport. 

Utility crews will also need lodging, which means some people in hotels could get booted. “[One] hotel said we’ve got 30 rooms of people, but they’re all going to have to leave by tomorrow because we’re booked for another group, which I’m assuming is probably the utility folks,” Taylor says, also noting at least one team of first responders was having to stay as far as Baton Rouge. She says a home Habitat uses for volunteers may need to be offered up to that team. 

COVID broke the Harvey model. “We set up a model after Harvey … we had a period while we were trying to support those people [from East Texas] till they could get back home. We set up a center at the Bayou Church, but I don’t know if we will be able to do that this time around because of concerns around COVID,” Taylor says. “It’s going to look different.”