Louisiana Braces For A Slow Recovery After Deadly Hurricane Laura

Aug 28, 2020
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The death toll exacted by Hurricane Laura now stands at 10 people, so far all in Louisiana. More than 400,000 people remain without electricity, many also without running water. NPR's Wade Goodwyn is on the coast outside of Cameron, La., where the eye of the hurricane came ashore. Wade, I want to start with Cameron because it is a seaside town. And how - what kind of shape is it in?

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Well, if you remember what Mexico Beach, Fla., looked like after Hurricane Michael slammed into it a couple years ago, that's what parts of Cameron look like now - just empty concrete slabs wiped clean by the water. Here's Lisa Steward, who owns a home that's elevated 19 feet off the ground, but it simply didn't matter.

LISA STEWARD: It's like an atomic bomb went off in the house. It's about - the roof is gone. Most of all the siding and walls are gone.

GOODWYN: And when I asked them if they plan to rebuild...

STEWARD: We've had always been here our whole life, but I don't know. I don't know. Right now I don't know.

GOODWYN: You know, it's hard in the immediate aftermath of seeing not only your own home destroyed but lots of the town, too, and to think how much work it's going to be after you - to take it to recreate it all. I mean, if you're north of 50 years old, you know, it's a tough one because you know you're talking years of deprivation.

CORNISH: There was so much concern about the storm surge as being the cause of destruction. Now it appears it was the wind, right?

GOODWYN: Yeah, that's right, I mean, although Cameron demonstrates that there was plenty of surge. But mostly, it wasn't in populated areas. I mean, Hurricane Rita hit the city of Lake Charles, La., back in 2005, and it flooded the place out. Laura snapped trees, power poles, telephone poles. I mean, four of the people who've been killed were killed by trees falling on them, including one teenage girl who died in her home. And plenty others died by carbon monoxide poisoning from their generators. There is a lot of ways a hurricane can kill you than just drowning.

CORNISH: Given what you just said, it's good to hear that there were some homes just near Cameron that were actually fine. What's going on there?

GOODWYN: I mean, that's something you see more with tornadoes and not really hurricanes. But when we were on the way out of Cameron just 20 miles west, I mean, everything is not only intact but barely touched. We stopped at one place, Charlene and Frank Breeden's house. He works at the nearby Cheniere natural gas plant, and they had a generator going, sweet, cool air conditioning inside. And although Laura took out everyone in the neighborhood's boat dock and pier - you know, just a bunch of parallel pylons pointing at the sky - other than that, they had minor damage, like some of the screens on their porch torn off.

FRANK BREEDEN: I was considering myself blessed because I thought we was going to take a direct hit and...

CHARLENE BREEDEN: About two miles down the road - two or three miles down the road, he said earlier all the telephone poles were down. So that's how close it was to us.

GOODWYN: If you were west of Laura's eye, you know, 15 miles, your property might be fine - 20 miles the other way, you can't even decide whether you want to live there anymore.

CORNISH: How does this compare to other recent natural disasters?

GOODWYN: Well, it's hard to top what winds from an F5 tornado will do. You know, it not only sweeps the houses from the earth but tears the plumbing out of the ground, too. Laura had winds that really did the power and telephone poles. And, you know, hospitals and nursing homes are being evacuated as we speak because the prospect for electricity and water service is so poor in both the near and distant future.

CORNISH: Wade, before I let you go, what about emergency services? Did any of the folks you talked to felt like they had able to get some help so far?

GOODWYN: Yeah. I mean, emergency services are coming back online. I mean, as of yesterday, it really was just communications coming back online. But they're getting their ducks in a row right now.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn on the Louisiana coast. Thank you for your reporting.

GOODWYN: You're quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.