The winds shook the whole building. The fire alarm went off. Sometime, between about 2 am and 4 am Thursday, the roof of the building curled away. The rainwater came in, soaking the ceiling of the second floor apartment, dripping down the walls.
Bailey, who’s 26 and lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana, emerged from the apartment at sunrise, after riding out the storm with her boyfriend and her dad and their two pets, a Persian cat and French-Boston Terrier bulldog mix. Outside, she saw the metal awning of the building’s roof rolled up like the end of a toothpaste tube. Debris, planks of wood and pieces of soggy paper were scattered everywhere. The windows of the Lake Charles City Hall blew out, and the documents went with them.
That scene replicated across Lake Charles and the surrounding towns in Lake Calcasieu Parish, in southwestern Louisiana, the morning after Hurricane Laura swept through. The storm made landfall on the Gulf Coast as a powerful Category 4 storm, one of the strongest to ever hit the region.
Meteorologists and officials had warned of “unsurvivable” storm surge ahead of Laura’s arrival, urging residents to evacuate. But in Lake Charles, about 50 miles inland from where the hurricane made landfall, the winds — which were gusting up to 130 miles per hour — caused much of the devastation. They sliced away rooftops, pulled apart homes, flipped trees, smashed windows, and took down the power lines. At least 10 people died in Louisiana, many from falling trees.
“It just looks like a bomb went off,” Jean-Paul Duhon, 50-year-old teacher and coach at Sulphur High School, in Sulphur, Louisiana, told me. “I don’t know how many trees are left standing. Buildings are gone. Trees snapped everywhere, power lines. It’s just massive destruction all over Sulphur, Lake Charles, Carlyss, all over the place.”
The recovery is beginning, slowly. According to the Louisiana Department of Health, as of Friday, water outages were affecting more than 200,000 residents. Hundreds of thousands are without electricity in Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. On Thursday, a chemical fire at a plant in Westlake, just outside of Lake Charles, forced officials to issue a shelter-in-place order, though not everyone had a place they could shelter in.
Those who hunkered down during the hurricane came outside Thursday to assess the scope of the damage for themselves, and for their neighbors who evacuated.
A tree fell through Duhon’s house, the chimney ripped out, the roof tore away and had, by storm’s end, settled in his neighbor’s yard. A tree also squashed his truck, which he says he might be the most mad about, and so he spent Thursday driving around in his side-by-side, fielding texts and Facetiming friends and fellow coaches and students and checking in on their homes or their parents’ homes and offering status updates.