Rebuilding From Disaster: Hurricane Laura and Sally

Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 4:06 PM EDT
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(WHSV) - The 2020 hurricane season is one that will go down in the history books and many on the Gulf Coast will never forget it. Eight storms made landfall on the Gulf Coast; five hurricanes and three tropical storms.

Hurricane Laura was the most powerful of those storms making landfall in southwest Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane on August 27th with max winds of 150 mph; one of the strongest hurricane landfalls in US history.

The storm caused at least 42 fatalities and greater than 19 billion dollars of damage. The Lake Charles area getting hit particularly hard.

Drone footage showing stunning images in the wake of devastation. Our sister station, KPLC was evacuated to the other side of the state and it was the right decision. The storm left the news station in pieces.

“I’m so incredibly proud of the team. KPLC always pulls together. The work that they did... scrambling to evacuate the building, going to our sister station, learning new technologies and providing non-stop wall to wall information upon hours and hours to keep our community informed and safe. It was spectacular,” said John Ware, general manager of KPLC.

Downtown Lake Charles looked like a ghost town. One couple returned to town after the storm passed and were in shock. “Can’t find anybody to talk to. Can’t find a gas station. We’re looking for everything and I just want to get home,” one person of the couple said.

High winds from the hurricane left places and businesses in shambles.

“One of my friends who works for the fire department sent me a picture. He showed me this and I knew it was going to be kind of rough. When I opened the picture up and had seen it all I could do is cry,” said Michael Francis, owner of a Lake Charles barber shop.

Another impact from Laura was in the seafood industry. Fishermen lost boats and homes putting the industry and culture in jeopardy.

“If we allow the fisheries industry to disappear, we risk losing a layer of the fabric of our culture,” said Clair Marceaux, Cameron’s port director.

One livestock owner took a direct hit and lost her home as well as other buildings.

“We have no fences, no barns, we have nothing left here. So we have to get rid of them,” livestock owner Tina Payne said.

Six weeks later, Hurricane Delta brought several inches of rain and water was as high as 2-3 feet in places. Those who were more spared began to reach out to those in need.

“I’ve got you know a good support system that’s out there helping us along,” said Lt. Beau Robertson of Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries.

The wind was so powerful that it took down the radar site at the National Weather Service in Lake Charles. It took several months to finally get a radar.

After six months, the city of Sulphur was finally nearing the end of the cleanup process. Forests were also heavily impacted.

“We had the highest forestry acre damage of 188,000 acres and the timber value is expected to be 76.7 million,” said Keith Hawkins, area forestry agent for the LSU Agricultural Center.

Even this spring, homeowners were fighting battles with insurance agencies, FEMA, and just having somewhere to live.

“I want God to release my burden. I’ve been through... I just need a place that I can pay 794 is all I can pay,” said Lesa Deshotel, one hurricane survivor.

Hurricane Sally also made landfall several weeks after Laura. The coast of Alabama and Florida were hit the hardest. Sally made landfall in Gulf Shores Alabama as a Category 2 storm in September. For places that were spared from the worst of the storm, they sprung into action. 70 members of a naval unit in Gulfport, Mississippi traveled to Pensacola’s naval base that suffered serious damage.

“It’s a really great opportunity to be able to help out close neighbors to our community but to help out fellow military personnel,” said Chief Sam Sutheimer, from Naval Construction Battalion 11.

Even though Mississippi was spared the worse, they still had damage. There was one place that a tree snapped in half and fell on a house.

“We just heard a loud thud hit the house... vibrated the wall where we were sleeping,” said Dylan Watson, one of the residents in the house.

With a record hurricane season and the Gulf Coast getting hit by eight different storms, it did its damage to sandy beaches. In Mississippi, beaches were constantly being maintained after one storm hit after another.

“Before our next summer season, hopefully everything will be corrected and put back where it was and we will be ready for next year,” said Chuck Loftis, Harrison County sand beach director.

The next hurricane season is right around the corner, beginning June 1st.

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