Slowly but surely, Lake Charles staggered backwards. In southwest Louisiana, shingles had begun to replace blue tarps on more roofs. Signs and streetlights that were once twisted like paper clips have been replaced.
After two hurricanes pulverized the city last year, Lake Charles has been on a long and daunting road to recovery.
But this week, Lake Charles faces disaster again.
The storms dumped up to 15 inches of rain in some places. Dozens of residents were rescued from their homes as floodwaters gushed in and left some streets navigable only by boat and large trucks.
At least four people have died in Louisiana after a flood that began Monday that caused flooding across much of the coast. Baton Rouge, about 130 miles east of Charles Lake, has had more than a foot of rain in places, prompting local authorities to declare a state of emergency and stir up painful memories of the flooding catastrophic events that ravaged the region in 2016.
Beyond the devastation, the floods have been a demoralizing blow to communities who are fed up with their resilience being tested.
“Just insult to injury,” said Phillip Tarver, who represents Lake Charles in the state legislature and is a city car dealership. “These nine months have been difficult. It really is.
The threat of severe storms has also reached Texas this week, where forecasters have warned of flooding in Houston as the ground becomes oversaturated with precipitation. “Continue to stay abreast of weather conditions and be safe,” the National Weather Service said in an advisory.
The flood was an agonizing reminder of the impact of climate change on the Gulf of Mexico coast, especially after a hurricane season last year that was among the busiest on record. Mayor Nic Hunter of Lake Charles said President Biden called him on Wednesday and they had a “very candid conversation about struggles and needs.”
“Everyone is tired,” Hunter said in a Facebook post. “Some now face the unthinkable prospect of repairing a house for the third time in less than a year.”
The flooding comes after Mr Biden visited Lake Charles this month as he tried to spend trillions of dollars to shore up the country’s decaying infrastructure, promising not only to restore the city, but to strengthen it. in the face of climate change.
“I promise you we’ll build back better,” Biden said. “Better ability to withstand storms that are becoming more severe and more frequent than ever.”
Lake Charles, like much of the Louisiana coast, has borne the brunt of this reality. In August, Hurricane Laura, one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the state, brought 150 mph winds that devoured homes and businesses, destroying entire blocks, toppling trees and utility poles and leaving a mess that only intensified when another storm, Hurricane Delta, hit the city in October. By some estimates, the storms caused more than $ 12 billion in damage.
“Our hearts are truly broken,” Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said at a recent press conference. “I’m sorry you have to deal with this again.”
Meteorologists said most of the precipitation occurred on Monday, when the storms dropped 12 to 15 inches over Charles Lake in less than six hours. “With the rate dropping, the drainage just couldn’t keep up,” said Jonathan Brazzell, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.
Forecasters are now warning of more precipitation in the coming days and further flooding of the river as water drains from Charles Lake. Until Friday morning, a stretch from Lake Charles to Houston could take another two to four inches, with a potential of up to 15 inches in isolated locations. Baton Rouge could also receive several additional inches of rain.
In Baton Rouge, authorities said one man was likely dead from power outages cutting off the oxygen machines he needed, and another man was found dead in a submerged vehicle in an underpass. In the parish of West Baton Rouge, at least one man died after a car crashed into a canal. In the Lake Charles area, a man was found in a flooded vehicle on Tuesday.
At Lafayette, familiar anguishes rose with the water level of the bayou. Residents watched the clouds darken and swell just a week after gusts of rain soaked the low-lying parish and lifted the Bayou Vermilion to flood stage. The historic floods of 2016, which damaged nearly 2,000 homes there, traumatized homeowners in the area.
On Wednesday, two days after taking water for the third time in four years, patrons of Kirk’s U-Needa-Butcher on Lafayette’s North Side chose refrigerators stocked with specialty seasoned meats and walked out with Styrofoam boxes. filled with stuffed turkey wings or chicken crackers. .
Owner Blake Gallet said Monday’s downpour, when the skies opened up right after work, took him by surprise. A neighbor alerted him to water entering the store, and he watched the passing cars create a wake that spread over the top of hastily assembled sandbags. Fifteen cars are blocked there by a sudden lake.
Thinking of the possibility of more rain for the remainder of the week, Mr Gallet hid sandbags nearby, taking no chances on a light forecast. The procedure had become strangely familiar.
“It’s sad that when your crew knows what they’re doing, they do it really well and it doesn’t take long,” said Gallet. “This is the third time we have to do it, and we are becoming more efficient.”
Even residents spared the floodwaters sweated what could happen. Water crept within three inches of Pam Suire’s house on Monday evening. She and her husband lifted furniture onto risers before it rained. The Suires took 14 inches of water in 2016 and have had near misses since.
“I’ve become good enough not to worry about the things I can’t control,” Ms. Suire said. She and her husband are looking for a grant to raise their house. “It will only take a few meters,” she said, adding that the project would be expensive.
In Lake Charles, the community feared how much their progress had been canceled out by the flooding.
The shock of the initial destruction caused by hurricanes had long given way to the agonizing marathon of the recovery – a series of inconveniences, bureaucratic tangles and a nagging mixture of desperation and frustration.
“It’s definitely a setback,” said Matt Redd, a real estate developer in Lake Charles.
“Unfortunately, we are experienced in this area,” he added. “It’s depressing, but at the same time, we’re a pretty resilient bunch, and we’re going to start fixing our things.”