Tens of Thousands in LA and TX Devastated — Battling COVID In Record Heat Without Power or Water

The COVID pandemic makes much more challenging all the issues surrounding the evacuation, response, and rebuilding of the areas of Louisiana and Texas hit hard by Hurricane Laura.  As National Public Radio explains, many families are now essentially homeless because their houses were ruined by the storm and they lack running water and electricity.  Many were already out of work, and now they are waiting in long lines in their cars to get the survival basics: ice, water, a hot meal. It is miserably hot, and even getting around is difficult — the major interstate is clogged with emergency vehicles and utility trucks, and traffic accidents and debris still block many roadways. Because they live in a high-risk COVID area, they must stay in hotels they cannot afford because large shelters are not safe and they have nowhere else to go – the need is unprecedented due to the pandemic.

Why This Matters:  67,000 people have already registered for Federal disaster assistance but it will not get better any time soon for those hit hardest by the storm.  They are likely to become “domestic” climate refugees who will have to rebuild their lives somewhere else — just as the residents of Puerto Rico did after Maria, New York and New Jersey did after Sandy, and New Orleans did after Katrina.

The Victims

NPR tells the stories of some of the storm’s victims.  “‘It’s just kind of hard right now,’ says Trichee Abraham, who lost her job as a cashier recently, one of millions of Americans pushed to the brink by the financial crisis that accompanied the pandemic. Like many evacuees, she chose to ride out the storm in a hotel. She says she used up her savings to pay for the stay, and she has yet to receive any aid from the local, state or federal government.”  And as another victim explained, she “evacuated to Austin with her 5-year-old son and mother as the storm approached. Now she’s come back to take stock of the damage and get back to her job. ‘It’s rough staying safe when you don’t have water at the moment or electricity, to try to keep everything clean,’ she says.”   And those who have generators are the lucky ones — but a few people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by them.

Early assessments were that the storm was not as damaging as predicted — but there were, as of Monday, 324,000 power outages across the state of Louisiana and 600,000 people without water or under boil water advisories.  The Governor was warning that because of the high heat and extreme damage, it would take a long time to restore basic services to these areas.  Parts of the power grid there were totally wiped out.  And COVID is already increasing in Louisiana.  According to the Washington Post, “Louisiana has seen 661 new cases in the past week alone, and the hurricane has disrupted testing efforts. Community tests are ‘at a low point,’ Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a news conference.”

To Go Deeper:  Read this USA Today account of shrimpers who tried to ride out the storm on their boats tied up in port in Lake Charles, thirty miles inland from the coast.

Graphic: Annabel Druissi for Our Daily Planet

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