Skip to comments.Lake Charles' hit from Rita gets little attention
Posted on 12/06/2005 6:20:11 AM PST by CajunConservative
Residents of Lake Charles, many of whom will have blue tarps for roofs for the foreseeable future, have to feel a little slighted. Since Aug. 29 most of the news coverage, both inside and outside the state, has focused on what Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans. The coverage is justified in light of what one of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history did to such a distinctive city.
Yet almost lost in all the sad stories, at least outside of southwest Louisiana, are these two facts:
Lake Charles and the region are still reeling from damage caused by Hurricane Rita, which struck Sept. 24. "We are on our knees," said Calcasieu Parish Police Jury President Hal McMillin during a recent tour of the area.
Leaders exude a can-do attitude that offers a sharp contrast with unrelenting criticism of state and federal officials elsewhere. "Our spirits are high," McMillin said. "We are rebuilding."
The Lake Charles area and its stories face several handicaps when it comes to winning attention. It is tucked in the southwest corner of the state, which is generally outside of the Baton Rouge/New Orleans media markets. It has about 75,000 residents and virtually none of the political bickering that makes New Orleans a magnet for television cameras.
"I wish they were talking a little more about us," Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach said of news coverage this week.
"It is a little disappointing in a sense. But I don't lose any sleep over it."
Roach said two people died in the Lake Charles area when Hurricane Rita arrived.
At least 1,090 died due to Hurricane Katrina.
"When we said it is time to get out, they got out," Calcasieu Parish Administrator Mark McMurry said of area residents.
Even so, the storm did the seemingly unthinkable: It replaced Hurricane Audrey, which tore through the area in 1957, as southwest Louisiana's most destructive storm.
Hurricane Audrey killed at least 390 residents. Modern technology and other steps helped prevent such deaths from Rita.
"In terms of the economic destruction, infrastructure, the loss of a way of life, Rita was certainly worse in that respect," Roach said.
Residents jokingly call Lake Charles the nation's "blue roof capital," a reference to the seemingly endless sea of blue tarps that cover damaged roofs.
One group alone supplied 20 miles of tarp.
Roach figures Lake Charles suffered at least $1 billion in losses. Estimates for total Rita-related damage exceed $9 billion.
Lack of housing is the key problem. Rebuilding southwest Louisiana, like the New Orleans area, is complicated when workers have no place to sleep.
The future of heavily-damaged Harrah's Casino is unclear and probably will be for another six months.
Gambling revenue supplies about one-third of the city's building fund, Roach said.
McNeese State University, which claimed 9,000 students before the storm, suffered about $10 million in damages. At least 40 buildings were seriously damaged, McNeese President Robert Hebert said. Up to 500 students have been housed in an old Navy ship.
"The university took a heavy hit," Hebert said.
Lake Charles-Boston High School, which used to be Lake Charles High, lost 19,000 library books.
George Swift, executive director of the Southwest Louisiana Partnership for Economic Development, made a direct appeal to state leaders touring the area.
"Please don't forget us," Swift said. "We need help here."
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We are capable and competent over here. I knew who did my roof and I didn't lose a shingle. A friend of mine's mother was upset because she didn't have a blue roof like the rest of the neighbors because she had no damage. So she went to Lowe's and bought her a blue tarp and made her son put her blue roof on like the neighbors. She's about 75. He was not happy with her but she insisted.
The biggest problem most people are having here is that the insurance adjustors are low balling the damage estimate way under the actual cost of repair.
I was in Lake Charles a few years ago and have fond memories of the hospitality.
There's a BIG difference in Lake Charles and N.O residents.
My family members in Westlake were working hard to help organize supplies, housing, food, etc., for Katrina victims (including some of our relatives from N.O) when Rita hit.
They evacuated Rita to Woodville Texas, where they have a weekend home on a small lake. Rita damage was so widespread it took apart their boat dock/boathouse in Woodville. Completely destroyed it. B.A.S.S. had a women's tournament scheduled on Sam Rayburn Lake in October and had to move it near Dallas. Talked to some gals from around Rayburn and the damage there was extensive, and widespread.
My relatives also had about a dozen BIG trees down on their Woodville property, as well as damage to their home there. They are working with insurance adjustors now to clean up the damage. You don't hear them whining. They are so far satisfied with the federal response.
Funny thing is the storm blew all the milfoil on the lake under their dock. I'm going fishing there over the Christmas holidays.
Have you heard anything about the damage in Vinton? I used to work in Vinton and know some good people there. I fear they got hit hard.
Rita did some major damage that was widespread. The only type of trees that basically stood undamaged were the live oaks. My uncle had a tree down where the root system was taller than his house. Lake Charles and surrounding area looks naked without all of the trees.
Vinton was hit hard but once the tree debris was removed it's not as bad as it first seemed. Delta Downs is getting ready to start racing again. It's been about a month since I have been there but it looked okay then.
It's a great place to live. After the way the leaders handled things after the storm it's even better.
Delta Downs used to be my second home (grin). Of course that was before they built the casinos in Lake Charles.
I'll be in Lake Charles over the Christmas holidays so I guess I'll get a look at the damage then.
How's Woodville doing now? I have family living there, and my grandparents lived there. I have lots of memories of Woodville. I haven't been there in about 10 years because I live in California, and my folks live in Dallas. Plus, once my grandparents passed away, there wasn't a big desire to visit.
Still about the same as 30 years ago. Beautiful, quaint little town. I used to work for the weekly newspaper there, and had a home in Ivanhoe (on the highway between Woodville and Beaumont). Best fishing I ever experienced, and I've fished a lot of places.
George Jones had a little amusement type place in Colmesneil (sp) when I was there. And the Dogwood Festival was always fun. I go there to visit relatives a few times a year (was there last March), it hasn't changed at all in the past 20 years, except they got a big Walmart now.
Harrah's riverboat is still breached on beach. It looks kind of weird at night without the gaudy lights now.
That'll be a sight to see. They have the best food at that casino (or did).
What about the fancy homes on Calcasieu Lake? Did they survive?
I was wondering this the other day -- what is the name of the bayou you cross over from Lake Charles to Moss Bluff? I went by boat once to a small house on the bayou (it was a restaurant, and the only way I knew of to get there was by boat) and had the biggest, best eatin' crawfish ever there.
I haven't lived there for more than a decade. Can't wait to get to LC for Christmas and stock up on Richards smoked sausage. We can't get decent smoked sausage here. There's another brand we buy there made somewhere near LC, can't remember the name of it, but it's the best. I bring it back by the trunkloads.
How did Hackberry stand up to the storm? Got relatives there too, and duck hunted there a few years ago.
Some of the homes on Shell Beach Drive did flood but I drove by there last night and most had their Christmas lights up.
The bayou is English Bayou.
Is the sausage Rabideaux's? If that is it they have a market on 165 going towards Kinder that sells stuffed chickens, pork roast, beef roast and pork chops. They are excellent and easy just turn on the oven, stick it in and take it out in a couple of hours.
Hackberry got hit hard but they are recovering pretty well. They have some tough people there. My brother works in Johnson Bayou and if he brings his laptop home he has some really good pictures of the area and I will post them so you can see. Holly Beach is gone. There is NOTHING left standing except for the water tower. One good thing is they are going to install a sewer system before allowing any rebuilding.
I agree with you 100%. Lake Charles is one of the nicest cities I have ever visited in my life. I love the people & the city.
Yes, it is Rabideaux's. The very best smoked sausage. I wish I could order it on the internet. I'm making some gumbo today and had to settle for that old Hillshire Farms stuff they sell here.
I brought a bunch of Rabideaux's back last time I was in La., but all my friends wanted some, so I ended up giving it all away.
I'll load up Christmas.
I saw Holly Beach on TV, and it is gone, completely gone.
I'd love to see the photos.
Do you read the lake Charles American Press? I used to be editor of the "Contraband" and gave the editor of the American Press and the sports editor their first newspaper jobs. I also worked at one time at the American Press, and the Southwest Builder News in Sulphur. You're in my old stomping grounds.
Yep, English Bayou. My brother lived in Moss Bluff until a few years ago and some of his friends from Moss Bluff evacuated to here in Tennessee. They stayed at my brothers, but now live out on their own. They love it here and decided to stay. She is from Reeves, where my sister lived for many years, and he from Moss Bluff.
Amen to that!
I read both the American Press and the Sulphur Daily news.
Tennessee is beautiful. I don't blame them for wanting to stick around. It's definitely a far cry from Reeves. I own property in the Sugartown area and on Bundicks Lake. (My mother's family is from Sugartown.) So I go through Reeves quite a bit.
I had moved away for a good while then moved back to take care of my grandmother and father who was disabled. I at times want to move away again and may down the road but right now this is where I want to be. My family is here and that is my main reason for sticking around. I missed a lot when I lived out of state.
Come to think of it, what about further north? I know that Rita was heading for DeRidder and Leesville/Ft Polk.
They got hit pretty hard too but they are up and running. The main damage was from all the downed trees. The entire electrical grid was wiped out too in Beauregard Parish.
Ha, the Sulphur newspaper is daily now? It was bi-weekly when I worked there, owned by retired Army General Wise.
I interned there while in college (McNeese). And at the LC American Press.
Vinton used to have a small weekly, but it folded while I was at the Builder. So, the Builder started a Vinton edition (section) once a week and I produced it.
Anyway, I had to come up with a section of news and the town is so small. I remember walking down(the only) main street and writing info on Knights of Columbus fish fries, etc., written on billboards at the bank, trying to find some news.
I finally ventured into the local drug store, and there was a coffee clatch there, all the old timers were hanging out. I got a cup of coffee and sat right down among them. Soon I had 'em talking, and had enough material to write feature articles for years.
Those included interviewing a Hall of Famer baseball great (Ted Lyons) and a guy (one of four from Vinton) who was in the Battaan Death March.
Before you cross and Sabine River if you look to the right you'll see a monument from I-10 at the American Legion Post. The article I wrote about the Battaan vets prompted a fundraising drive and they built it to honor those guys. Only one survived. To this day it was one of the best things I'd ever written.
Vinton is just full of interesting people. Another of my favorites is a story about an old 'coon ass (he is probably deceased by now) who was the justice of the peace (almost 90 at the time). He couldn't read or write and ran for office 50 years earlier as a joke. He won and was reelected all those years. It took me a long time to convince him to let me write about him (he couldn't read and was suspicious of anything written about him). I had to take a puppy from a litter of his to get his permission. The folks around town used to joke that he'd make you write out your own speeding tickets (JPs had broad powers and were armed then), since he couldn't write. Once, a smart aleck made the ticket out on the JP :)
My cajun brother-in-law was raised in Reeves, and one of his favorite fishing holes was Bundick's Lake. Do you know where Whiskey Chitter is?
I sure do know where Whiskey Chitto is. My grandmother was baptized there and I grew up in both the Bundicks area and Oberlin. I know several of the canoe rental owners, T&J and White Sands. I used to go swimming and canoing back when I was in high school.
My Grandparents were from Woodville too. I love the place.
I had a lot on Deer Lake, east of town. Beautiful place. Should have kept it.