Lafayette and Louisiana brace for Delta with resources stretched thin

Photo courtesy The Advocate

The gist: With Lafayette Parish under voluntary evacuation since mid-week, most locals have chosen to ride it out. Although downgraded to a Category 2 as it approached the coast late Friday afternoon, Hurricane Delta poses a real threat to a weakened disaster response system. 

Emergency resources are still stretched by the pandemic and the halting recovery from Hurricane Laura. The mega shelter in Alexandria filled up Friday to a COVID-reduced capacity of 800 people. A second shelter in Bastrop is open, and the state can open a third if need be. Around 10,000 people are sheltered across the state as of early Friday afternoon, the governor announced, including several thousand in hotels after Hurricane Laura. Another 2,000 are in hotels in Texas. 

Facing Laura six weeks ago, authorities worked to avoid using the shelters, shifting tens of thousands of evacuees to hotels in Louisiana and Texas. Many Cameron and Calcasieu parish residents are still unable to go home. 

Hotels were already booked up by those evacuees and by outside utility crews coming into help. “That’s why we stressed earlier to evacuate,” Lafayette Parish Homeland Security Director Craig Stansbury said during a press conference Friday. 

Out-of-state utility companies arrived in force to make quick work of restoring power. LUS announced 600 people in 40 line crews are on hand to repair breaks in the grid. Power was restored quickly in Lafayette after Laura. But thousands who stayed behind in Cameron and Calcasieu parishes went without power for weeks. 

Louisiana’s network of disaster relief organizations is drained. Kim Boudreaux of Catholic Charities of Acadiana describes an “apocalyptic” tone on statewide disaster response calls. Volunteers are few and far between, and meager resources are stretched thin. 

“Every disaster has further complicated our state’s situation,” she says. 

LCG arranged for several buses to take those without shelter to Alexandria. Outreach workers tried to get those without places to go out ahead of the storm. Though LCG anticipated dozens, only a handful took the trip.

Thursday morning, Betty Blaine and Troy Daigle waited to board the transport. Hailing from Lake Charles, they say the high rise they lived in was shredded by Hurricane Laura in late August. After decamping to a Marriott in New Orleans, Blaine and Daigle packed west to Acadia Parish, between Lafayette and their native Lake Charles, to stay in a friend’s camper. Unsafe there, they cast their lot with the critical transport caravan and the shelter in Alexandria. 

“With these hurricanes, you don’t know what they going to do,” Daigle says through a disposable surgical mask. After they ride out the storm, they hope to return to the camper. It’ll be another seven to eight months before their apartment in Lake Charles is habitable.