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Hurricane Laura

Past Emergency
August 24, 2020
U.S. Gulf Coast
Michael H. Captain Sr. points to the damage created by Hurricane Laura on his street with damaged houses and a down telephone pole behind him.

Extreme Weather – Extreme Devastation

Hurricane Laura made landfall in southwest Louisiana as a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds, hammering Texas and the Gulf Coast with extreme winds, heavy rains and powerful storm surge.  The Hurricane left widespread destruction across Louisiana in its aftermath—one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history.  The death toll has reached 27 people, several killed by falling trees in Louisiana, others dying from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators used indoors and some dying from the extreme heat that followed. The high winds devastated the city of Lake Charles and other Louisiana communities, adding new levels of suffering to poor and vulnerable communities of color on top of the COVID pandemic. Before making landfall on the Gulf Coast, Laura had cut a deadly path over the Dominican Republic after leaving 2 to 6 inches of rain in southern parts of Puerto Rico. At  least 13 people died in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

While the speed of the storm’s passage diminished the expected storm surge, Laura tore apart homes and businesses and knocked out power in Texas and Louisiana.  Widespread power and network outages left more than 400,000 people in Louisiana without power. With more than 150 transmission towers damaged, it will take weeks, if not months, to restore power to hardest hit communities. Alongside power outages, more than 100 water systems went down across the state, with 119 water systems under boil orders. The impact of power and water outages emerged as the priority concern as the heat index exceeded 100°F for the week following the storm. As of mid-September there were still over 73,000 customers without power in southwest Louisiana and over 12,000 residents in shelters across Louisiana and Texas. And then Hurricane Delta once again plunged many into darkness.

Our Emergency Team responded as the storm came ashore.  Offers of aid went out to at least 80 partners in the region and multiple shipments of water were underway immediately.  

Photo/Pu Ying HuangMichael H. Captain Sr. points to the damage created by Hurricane Laura on his street in north Lake Charles, Louisiana on Sept. 2, 2020. Captain rode out the storm with his dog while many of his neighbors evacuated.

Immediate Health Needs

Partners in Louisiana and Texas continue to communicate their needs, particularly after Hurricane Delta added more misery to the region. In Louisiana, partners reported catastrophic damage to infrastructure, and partners in both Louisiana and Texas reported the evacuation of clients and patients that require 24-hour care, stressed and fatigued staff and health care personnel and growing concerns around a potential spike in COVID-19 cases and MHPSS-related issues. Americares received requests for product support and funding to ensure access to critical health services. 

The heat and water shortages drove shelter numbers up further and then Delta undid what little progress had been make after Laura, which raises concerns around a potential spike in COVID-19 cases. Overall concerns about the Pandemic has hampered relief efforts. The full extent of Laura’s impact followed by Delta on the health system continues to unfold, but it has significantly affected hospitals and nursing homes.  Louisiana communities face a long recovery from the storm’s devastation.  The community of Lake Charles was hard hit by two storms and residents of the area are struggling to deal with so much loss in such a short period of time.

Three-Part Response

The team is offering support to our partners in three categories:

1. Relief supplies (medicines, hygiene and medical supplies, including PPE) – Four shipments of medicines and relief supplies (2 tons) have shipped out to LA and TX and more are being prepared. The supplies will help residents of Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur recovering from the hurricane.

2. Operational support for health centers (for health centers facing sustained power outages, in need of rapid repairs to damaged health facilities or in need of surge support.) We have already provided rapid grant support to four local health partners. This immediate aid will help supply temporary water trucks for potable water, handwashing stations and restroom facilities at damaged health center for patients and community members, along with durable medical equipment and assistive technologies, new computers, debris removal and cleanup and other operating costs.

3. Training and technical assistance (including in mental health and psychosocial support and infection prevention and control/COVID-19 management)

Americares had previously trained staff members at 42 health centers in the impacted areas on health center emergency preparedness

With the Pandemic forcing evacuees to shelter in multiple locations instead of large aggregate shelters, our Emergency Team worked closely with local partners to provide different kinds of support in light of the altered circumstances.  

Photo/Pu Ying HuangThe SWLA Center for Health Services suffered extreme roof damage, loss of electricity, water damage, and will need to be completely gutted.

Mental Health Needs

Finally, as the response unfolds, Americares continues to focus on its mental health and psychosocial support for health workers programs. We have supported over 8,000 health workers and emergency responders with this unique program over the years, following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program recognizes the intense pressures and anxieties that providing care for those suffering from disaster and poverty has on our care providers. To help them remain resilient and effective, we teach strategies for self-care and good mental health.

Final Recovery Phase

The final initiative of the Hurricane Laura response for the SWLA Center for Health Services will support the operations of a new Mobile Medical Unit. The grant will be used to support staff costs for a part-time driver and fuel for the mobile unit, along with the procurement of office supplies and equipment including a computer and printer. SWLA Health strategically purchased the mobile unit during the summer of 2021 to expand services for the medically underserved and vulnerable residents in Calcasieu, Allen, Acadia, and Lafayette parishes of Louisiana.  With the funds awarded to support the mobile unit operations, SWLA Health is expanding access to care for residents who lack transportation or the ability to seek care in traditional settings as well as provide care to a routinely displaced population due to increasingly strong and frequent hurricanes.

New Mobile Clinic for SWLA Center for Health Services in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Hurricane History

The landfall of Hurricane Laura came as the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina occurred on August 29 – a storm that brought historic destruction and death to the region in 2005.  In 2017, 3 deadly storms hit the U.S. (HarveyIrma and Maria) in rapid succession causing enormous damage.  Americares mounted large scale responses in each case.  We are ready for the next storm and the ones that are sure to follow. You should be, too.  Get Ready Now.