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Storm-ravaged southwestern Louisiana takes stock of damage after Delta
Oct 11. 2020Hurricane Delta rumbled ashore near the tiny town of Creole as a Category 2 storm, leaving behind debris and damaged homes. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Callaghan O’Hare for The Washington Post
By The Washington Post · Dan Lamothe, Meryl Kornfield, Ashley Cusick, Paulina Firozi, Hannah Knowles · NATIONAL
LAKE CHARLES, La. – Southwestern Louisiana began its cleanup Saturday of its second strong hurricane in six weeks, beset with flooding, 100-mph wind damage and a powerful storm surge even as wreckage from the first storm still needs to be cleared and repaired.
Hurricane Delta rumbled ashore near the tiny town of Creole on Friday night with Category 2 strength, six weeks after Hurricane Laura came ashore 15 miles to the west as a Category 4 storm, with screaming 150 mph winds and violent, sweeping storm surge. The dual storms made it difficult on Saturday to determine where the wreckage of one storm ended and the next one began.
Hurricane Delta overturned vehicles, knocked out power across a broad swath of Louisiana and flooded homes. Some people were only starting to recover from Hurricane Laura, which made landfall in August. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Callaghan O’Hare for The Washington Post
In Creole, homes were ripped from foundations, windows were blown out by the wind, and scores of telephone poles were bent into swampy water. A church a few miles west sat with gaping holes in its side. In Lake Charles, a city of more than 70,000 that was already ravaged by Hurricane Laura in August, Delta unleashed winds of 95 mph, flooding some homes and leaving the city in darkness. It was the latest in a punishing series of storms: With the National Hurricane Center conventional naming list exhausted for 2020, Delta is the first Greek-letter-named hurricane to strike the lower 48 states.
“We already know that there will be damage in southwest Louisiana that will be very difficult to differentiate between what was caused by Hurricane Laura and what was caused by Hurricane Delta,” Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said Saturday afternoon at a news conference. “But what we know is that tens of thousands of Louisianans as we speak, are in a very difficult situation.”
Nearly 10,000 Louisianans were in shelters as of Saturday morning, according to Edwards – 935 of them evacuees from the Delta and thousands more still displaced by Laura. Edwards said power outages peaked near 700,000 and surpassed those inflicted by Laura. That Category 4 hurricane may have been more powerful, the governor said, but Delta’s onslaught was “much bigger.”
Thousands of National Guard members are activated for rescue and recovery efforts, Edwards said. No deaths have been tied to the hurricane, he said, though search-and-rescue missions were still underway Saturday.
Delta weakened to a tropical depression over western Mississippi on Saturday and is set to decrease in forward speed and move north across the state and into the Tennessee Valley on Saturday night and into Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center. Water levels along the Louisiana coast will continue to subside Saturday, according to the hurricane center, but the risk of flash-flooding still looms with heavy rains.
The National Weather Service office in Lake Charles reported extreme rainfall in the two-day period since Thursday morning. A gauge in Calcasieu Parish recorded more than 17 inches of rain, the highest total the office has reported.
Lynda LeBlanc, 68, and her husband, Wilson LeBlanc, 84, evacuated to Houston before Delta arrived. Laura had caused roof damage to their home, and they decided it was best to wait Delta out in safety. But they drove back to Lake Charles at 4 a.m., eagerly wanting to see how the house they have occupied for 32 years made out.
They found that where Laura brought wind to their Greinwich Terrace neighborhood, Delta brought on a new force of destruction: water.
Debris left over from Laura floated through thigh-high water across the LeBlancs’ neighborhood. Tarp-covered homes were submerged, and advertisements for tree removal drifted alongside signs of the lives lived here: Christmas decorations, prescription medications, stuffed animals and cloth masks.
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter advised tens of thousands of residents who evacuated ahead of the storm on Saturday that if they don’t have to come back, they should wait at least a day.
“Though Delta may have been a ‘weaker’ storm than Laura, Delta has been more of a water event than a wind event,” Hunter wrote on Facebook. “Today is not the day to come back to LC, if you can avoid it..”
Black Hawk helicopters from the Louisiana National Guard flew over a city already shrouded in blue tarps from Laura’s damage. On Saturday morning, the water was still too deep to drive through, and Lynda LeBlanc was afraid to enter it, knowing that snakes and alligators often frequent the nearby Kayouche Coulee River, from which she suspected the water came.
Her husband still wanted to see, though. He found the blue tarp he’d used to protect his damaged roof now flitting 20 feet above the house, wrapped around a backyard tree. Flood marks on the outside of the home showed it had taken on about six inches of water, and it seemed the motor of LeBlanc’s truck had probably been submerged as well.
“We knew it was going to get a little water, but we didn’t know it was going to be this much,” he said. “If it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s all I can say.”
Around the corner, Muriel Beaz, 31, also found water in her home. Many in the neighborhood sustained roof damage during Laura, but Delta brought a new threat.
“The house did great with Laura,” Beaz said. “But this is what killed it for us: flooding.”
Beaz and her 28-year-old husband, A.J. Shoell, rent their home and said they do not have insurance.
“Good luck trying to get renter’s insurance here,” Shoell said.
“They won’t cover us. We’ve tried,” said Beaz.
In downtown Lake Charles, Justin Roberts, 40, said he thinks Hurricane Laura directly contributed to Delta’s flooding by blocking storm drains with debris. Roberts, a former Army chaplain turned filmmaker, has been spending time with the Cajun Navy Foundation, documenting their efforts to help Lake Charles rebuild after Laura.
Friday night, he found himself on rescue missions as the group helped residents survive yet another major storm. Navy volunteers headed out with trucks and boats, pulling three families, including several children, from the water.
“Most of these people, they can’t afford to leave,” Roberts said. “They don’t have the finances to go somewhere else.”
Some, like Abbeville resident Stephanie Richard, are staring down the prospect of homelessness. Devastating winds early Friday night split a large oak tree outside Richard’s home, smashing the massive branches into her roof.
But Richard took solace that the tree fell the way it did: If it toppled in the other direction, it would have crashed into the home of her neighbor, who did not evacuate, she said. She said she is grateful for her life – and her neighbor’s.
“This is just a house,” she said, wiping away tears. “I’m not going to let this affect me.”
In Rayne, a small town of about 8,000 people about 15 miles outside of Lafayette, ferocious winds knocked over trees and tossed debris. After sunrise, officials counted at least 14 homes in the town that were no longer inhabitable due to damage, Councilwoman Curtrese Minix said.
Charlie Loftlon, 74, who had lived in his home since he was 3 months old, said the damage was unlike anything he’s seen before.
Across the street, a large live oak flattened his neighbor’s house while no one was home.
The howling wind tore a limb from another neighbor’s tree, impaling Loftlon’s own roof while he was inside. But, he said, there was nothing he could do until morning.
“When I peeped outside, I saw the limbs waving,” he said. “It sounded like the devil was coming through here.”
By 8 a.m., Loftlon had already gathered the equipment he needed to clear his roof before helping others. Residents assessing the extent of the damage called out to each other, making sure others were safe.
In Jennings, about 20 miles west of Rayne, Mark Cina, 47, chopped apart large magnolia branches in the yard of his neighbor Tanya Gaudet, 49.
“Up and down this street, we’re helping each other,” Cina said.