Suffering upon suffering: Hurricane Laura and coronavirus wreak havoc with people’s lives

It’s been a frightening 24 hours for people in Hurricane Laura’s path.

One of the biggest storms to hit the US, but this time it slammed into people sheltering from a pandemic.

The result was deeply worrying on both counts.

Many people risking contagion to get to safety. Others risking “unsurvivable” storm surges to protect from the virus at home.

Hurricane Laura's flood devastation seen from above

Hurricane Laura’s flood destruction over Louisiana
Some people were either too scared, or couldn't afford to leave their homes
Image:Some people were either too scared, or couldn’t afford to leave their homes

The advice was unequivocally to get out – the risk of drowning was far greater than the risk of coronavirus. But that didn’t stop many refusing to leave.

This despite a chilling warning from one Sheriff: “If you choose to stay and we can’t get to you, write your name, address, social security number and next of kin and put it in a ziplock bag in your pocket.”

Louisiana has the highest infection rate per capita in the US for coronavirus.

More from Hurricane Laura

  • Hurricane Laura: Half a million ordered to evacuate Gulf Coast as forecasters warn of ‘catastrophic damage’

  • Two hurricanes forecast to hit US Gulf at same time in unprecedented weather event

Whether it was fear of the virus, or a livelihood ruined by the pandemic, many chose to ride it out or felt they had to because they’d didn’t have the money to leave safely.

Kevin George says he should have listened to the advice to leave
Image:Kevin George says he should have listened to the advice to leave

Kevin George was one of those people. A substitute teacher, his work has completely disappeared during COVID-19 and he said economic reasons were a big factor in his decision to stay put.

“I really regret it,” he said as he described hiding in a cupboard with his wife in their home in Lake Charles as Hurricane Laura ripped through.

“At one point in time I had to cover my wife’s body with my own to shelter her from harm. I didn’t want anything to happen to her.

“I kept on saying it’s not going to be that bad, it’s not going to be that bad. And then I was wrong. It was that bad.”

Thankfully the 20-foot storm surge forecast didn’t hit nearly as hard as feared. But Storm Laura wreaked hours of havoc before moving on.

120 people died when Hurricane Rita stuck 15 years ago
Image:120 people died when Hurricane Rita stuck 15 years ago

It’s been compared in size to Storm Rita, still raw in the minds of people here, after it hit 15 years ago claiming 120 lives and causing billions of dollars of damage.

“This was worse than Rita,” says Kate Cotton who rode out the storm to be near her restaurant in Lake Charles. Kate recalls her father’s restaurant taking months to get back on its feet after Storm Rita.

Her business was already battered by COVID-19 before the storm hit.

“We were already struggling with the virus. Because it’s so small our capacity is only 40 people anyway and we’re down to 10. So we’re just really hoping to get running soon so we can feed the first responders.”

Seeing people’s lives, homes or businesses wrecked adds to the sense of despair here. Suffering upon suffering.

The search for survivors who stayed home continues.

The storm has set off a huge chemical fire
Image:The storm has set off a huge chemical fire

Those who still have homes now have to stay inside with windows closed and air conditioning off due to a chemical fire triggered by the storm. This in sweltering temperatures.

While those who’ve lost their homes have to somehow seek shelter from a pandemic.

America is already going through so much and Hurricane Laura has shown how much worse these crises become when they converge.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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