Before the direct hits from Hurricane Laura on August 27 and Hurricane Delta on October 9 devastated the community, United Way of Southwest Louisiana's pandemic response had served over 245,000 community members. Denise Durel, president and CEO, and her experienced team's quick response had allowed families to stay in their homes and keep food on their tables. Still, they all now shared in a new threat.
Fifty percent of Southwest Louisiana lives in a tenuous month-to-month financial situation that makes preparation for hurricane season and even evacuation difficult or impossible. Denise Durel and her team were busy filling buses with evacuees, answering calls and posting the latest news on social media. By August 28th, they had the first relief supply center running. They were distributing donated diesel to fuel vehicles and generators. Their photography was the first many evacuees were seeing online.
The Hurricane Relief Center, run by Durel's team under a tent in a church parking lot, served 378,114 hurricane victims before closing in November. United Way of Southwest Louisiana served Thanksgiving and Christmas meals by the thousands and gave out over 7,250 toys to children during the holiday season.
The new year brought hope, even without a federal supplemental disaster aid package for Southwest Louisiana. Denise Durel and her team supplied over 180 tons of brand-new furniture donated by a major online retailer to working families sleeping on air mattresses. February brought winter storm Uri, and recent storms have exacerbated that damage until some residents are on the third round of gutting their homes. Southwest Louisiana has now endured five federally declared natural disasters in ten months.
United Way of Southwest Louisiana is leading the charge to rebuild and recover with multiple avenues of attack. Community members needing assistance use the 211 information and referral line to request help with anything from debris removal, childcare or utility bills.
United Way of Southwest Louisiana, with Denise Durel at the helm, coordinates incoming volunteer groups, giving them access to case-worked residents needing aid. This professional division of efforts ensures communication between all agencies. The most significant need is gutting of sheetrock, removing flooring, and debris from yards and hauling of large trees.
The other focus of Durel's team is assisting homeowners with FEMA Appeals. United Way volunteers help respond to an assortment of requests from the federal agency, easing many homeowners' anxiety, some without access to fax or email. Homeowners call 211 to request an appointment.
Mental health for local community members after all of the trauma is something United Way of Southwest Louisiana is pushing to the forefront of every discussion. The storms added a layer to the pandemic, and anxiety or depression has become common. United Way has many ways to offer free help between online Crisis Chat, Teen Texting, 211 call transfers or a funded partner agency.
Hurricane Laura, a Category 4, is tied for first place as the strongest storm on record to hit the state of Louisiana. Southwest Louisiana took a direct hit on August 27, 2020 from Laura when it was at its peak intensity which also makes it the tenth strongest landfall by windspeed in the U.S.
These pictures were taken by our dedicated team beginning hours after the storm began passing our community. We hope you will put yourself in the shoes of a homeowner pulling into their driveway and seeing a pine tree having split their home in half or a small business owner showing up to realize the windows have been broken and everything inside is a moldy, wet mess.
These images will also show how widespread the damage and devastation from Hurricane Laura is. Homes, roads, trees, small businesses, municipal buildings, banks, schools and hospitals were equally ravaged in Southwest Louisiana's five parishes of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Jefferson Davis.
Hurricane Delta hit in the same season and only weeks after Laura just miles from Laura's initial path. A Category 2 storm that was rain-driven, it devastated homes and businesses with "blue roofs" waiting for repairs as it followed Laura's path closely. The wind moved the plastic and allowed heavy loads of rainwater into homes. The heat and humidity in Louisiana combined with the entering rain to create the perfect atmosphere for mold and decay. Debris piles, typical on every street in 5 parishes, were washed into streets where they clogged gutters. Flooding from backed up rainwater becomes the next damaging phase of Hurricane Delta.
ONE YEAR LATER
The one year anniversary of Hurricane Laura has come and gone. Congressional approval for traditional disaster block grants were never granted for Southwest Louisiana despite Winter Storm Uri and May 2021 flooding devastating the area again.