‘We’re tired. But we’re strong’: the future of weather-battered Southwestern Louisiana

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By Josh Archote, Domenic Purdy

LAKE CHARLES, LA — Lifelong Lake Charles, Louisiana, resident Madeline Reeves has lived through multiple hurricanes and floods. But the last year of natural disasters in Southwestern Louisiana has been unprecedented.  

Madeline Reeves, pictured right, a 24-year old nurse, and her mother, Lisa Thompson, have lived in Lake Charles their entire lives.

Reeves, a 24-year-old nurse at Lake Charles’ largest hospital, said she’s observed increased sickness in her patients after hurricanes Laura and Delta displaced thousands in 2020.  

“I see a lot of the effects of people being displaced, not having access to their medication or ignoring problems they may have been experiencing but didn’t do anything about because they couldn’t or they were too busy focusing on cleaning up, repairing, making sure they have a place to live in,” Reeves said.  

The natural disasters, on top of the coronavirus pandemic, have led to shortages in staffing and ICU space at the Hospital, Reeves said. 

“A lot more people are homeless right now, living in tents in the woods, or on the side of the roads,” she said. “Eventually we see those people because they come to the ER for one reason or another.” 

Reeves said many people with pre-existing conditions haven’t been properly cared for, like a paralyzed young man she’s treated.  

“His home was destroyed completely, and they flooded again after these past floods,” she said, “so he’s been bouncing around different facilities.”  

Reeves treated an elderly patient with trauma after Hurricane Laura’s winds ripped the roof from her home while she was inside. She and her family took shelter in their vehicle for hours. 

“The lady I was taking care of, her brain blocked it out,” Reeves said. “She couldn’t remember where she was for weeks. She was finally starting to remember what she was going through—they thought they were going to die.” 

Reeves’ house, which she and her husband moved into two months earlier, has wind and water damage from the hurricanes.  

She’s had to balance more responsibility at the hospital, taking care of her 2-year-old son and battling with insurance companies and contractors to repair her home.  

“It’s been a mess,” she said.  

‘It’s tough to watch people flee.’ 

Lake Charles native and University of Louisville graduate student Tyler Nunez said that although residents of Southwest Louisiana are resilient, some can take only so much before it makes more sense to move.  

“They’re just tired,” he said. “They just want help. They want aid. They want to be able to move on, but they can’t do it.” 

The effects of natural disasters in Louisiana aren’t just financial. They’re also psychological and cultural.  

“It’s just getting further inundated with water and becoming more unlivable as a result of storms and a sinking coastline. That’s a bummer because if you’re Cajun, that’s where we’re from,” Nunez said. “It’s just sad because that’s our history. I understand why people are leaving because it’s probably not healthy even just mentally. But it’s tough to watch people flee.” 

In a video Nunez retweeted, a local favorite, KD’s Diner, filled with water while patrons ate their meals during a flash flood that left nearly a foot of rain in Lake Charles in May.  

“It says more about the character of the people who live there,” he said, than whether they’ve been desensitized to the floods.

“When something bad happens to you, you just kind of learn to push through,” he said. “Lake Charles will always be my home, even if it’s underwater, so I think it’s worth rebuilding just for that alone.”  

Lake Charles resident Katie McGrady said she’s thought about moving to other states after the last year of disaster. But moving isn’t as simple as those watching from the outside may think.    

“Suggesting people from coastal La. ‘just move’ because these weather events keep happening isn’t the helpful advice you may think it is,” McGrady said in a Tweet. “This is our home. Sure, I think the government will buy us all out in the next 10-15 years. But it’s still our home.” 

“We’re tough. We get sucker punched. We get throttled. But we rebuild. We did it after Rita, Ike, Gustav, Laura, Delta, the freak snow storm in Feb, & now the great flood of mid-May. We’re tired. But we’re strong.” 

How you can help

The following organizations are accepting donations and volunteers to help Louisiana residents recover from the last year of natural disasters. 

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