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Lake Charles, La., Begins Recovery Process After Hurricane Laura


When Hurricane Laura barreled toward the Texas-Louisiana border earlier this week, many people evacuated, leaving behind their homes and businesses and not knowing what they'd return to find. Now residents are beginning to filter back into one of the hard-hit areas, Lake Charles. From member station WWNO, Aubri Juhasz discovered that while the damage isn't as bad as some expected, it's still some of the worst that the city's ever seen.

AUBRI JUHASZ, BYLINE: In the days and hours leading up to Hurricane Laura's landfall, Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter begged residents to evacuate. And he says, for the most part, they did.


NIC HUNTER: You know, we don't have a clicker on the interstate with cars, but I think more people got out than I, unfortunately, thought hadn't.

JUHASZ: Now they want to come back, but they're not finding it easy. The city is without electricity and running water and could be that way for weeks. Roads are blocked, some with storm debris. Others are flooded out. Residents are anxious to check on their property, their pets or on friends and family that chose to stay behind.


JUHASZ: In downtown Lake Charles, a broadcast tower lies crumpled like a house of cards. But the damage is haphazard. Some buildings are untouched. Others have been torn apart, like Hair Saga Beauty Supply. The front of the building is completely detached. Twenty-year-old Abdullah Manea is trying to figure out how to cover it back up.

ABDULLAH MANEA: And I don't know. I'm trying to pay these people to at least cover it up with the wood. I don't know what are we going to do about it.

JUHASZ: Manea's family owns three businesses in Lake Charles. He says two were severely damaged. The third is fine. He's mostly mourning the loss of some expensive merchandise - wigs.

MANEA: That's a lot of money. That's a lot. It was human hair from this corner all the way to the other corner.

JUHASZ: More than $70,000 worth.

Farther down the road, Abby Piatt and her mom, Susan, are surveying the damage in their neighborhood. There are tree branches everywhere, including on their house.

ABBY PIATT: Mom said, I always wanted a skylight in my kitchen, but not like this.

JUHASZ: There's a ton of people at the Piatt house helping to clean up. They're on the roof cutting the branches of a big oak tree. Inside the house, there's more work to be done.

PIATT: We're trying to move everything before the ceilings cave in because it's looking like it won't last very long. You'll see (laughter).

JUHASZ: Austin Thorne, Abby's brother-in-law, says he was expecting the damage to be worse. The massive storm surge was nowhere near as bad as predicted. He was prepared to come back to homes completely flooded out. While elected officials are telling residents to stay away for now, Thorne says it's hard to do that.

AUSTIN THORNE: They're saying look and leave, but I know a lot of folks that are hooking up a little window unit with a generator. They're planning on staying, doing as much work as they can and just trying to get everybody back on their feet as fast as possible, so.

JUHASZ: And while Thorne and his family are staying outside of Lake Charles while repairs are made, he says they'll keep coming back every day until they can return for good.

For NPR News, I'm Aubri Juhasz in Lake Charles, La.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aubri Juhasz is a news assistant for NPR's All Things Considered.