LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana (CBSDFW.COM) – As the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season arrived Thursday, with forecasters watching as many as seven developing systems, Eric Burkes was in southeast Louisiana wondering if people had already forgotten there was a major storm that already hit this season.
The damage to infrastructure, business and homes in the Lake Charles areas is by far the most widespread, and slow to recover, that Burkes said he has seen in his years working with Minuteman Disaster Response from McKinney.
He and dozens of volunteers have been there for weeks, clearing debris from more than 30 properties. But the work has been largely overlooked outside of the immediate area.
“Even friends of mine you talk to back in Texas are like, ‘What are you doing down there?’,” he said. “They’re like, ‘I guess I didn’t hear about that.’ It was a quick event and the destruction was massive but I think people moved on to the other problems fairly quickly.”
In any year but 2020, the destruction from the category 4 storm would likely still occupy headlines. Elections, fires in the west, and a nation still affected by COVID-19 though have grabbed the attention.
The un-survivable storm surge Laura was forecast to bring, didn’t reach forecast heights, and major population centers on the Texas-Louisiana border avoided a direct hit.
“In many ways they came back out and said, ‘Well Lake Charles and that area dodged a bullet’,” said Matt Payne with Minuteman. “That’s actually not the case at all.”
Burkes said some property owners are living out of hotels that are a two-hour drive away, and commuting in each day to try to cleanup.
COVID restrictions have impacted everything from availability of volunteers, to the bottom line for relief organizations.
Payne said Minuteman’s funding was down more than 40%, due to cancelled fundraising over the last six months.
They are now also watching storm systems in the Atlantic, and planning for the possibility of having to deploy to another location along the coast, which he said would be devastating for those already hit.
“Just imagine, where we are already with the Lake Charles situation,” he said. “If another storm were to hit, they would be forgotten.”