by Wade Rathke
Thursday, August 27, 2020
Pearl River I’m fifteen feet above dirt looking out the window at the water that has risen up from the bayou a few miles from the Pearl River dividing Louisiana and Mississippi. It has filled the bioswale, anchored by cypress trees off of the road, and covered the pathway where gravel was just laid days ago. All of the trees bordering the property seem to be standing in water now. A breeze is swaying the pines back and forth. As bayou rises, I know it will fall, but when and how is a mystery to me.
We’re out of the danger zone on any map of Hurricane Laura’s progress, hundreds of miles east of landfall below Lake Charles, Louisiana, but not exactly out of harm’s way. Tornado warnings extend through New Orleans, so we discussed the pros and cons between a bathroom with windows and a hall closet.
We have no complaints, because we know people well in Lake Charles, and our hearts are going out to them. We’re sheltering a blended family of five in New Orleans now, a second cousin of mi companera. Her first cousin evacuated to Arkansas, but late in the afternoon this gang made it to the city in a pickup and small sedan.
ACORN has had a group in the north end of Lake Charles for almost 45 years. The neighborhood is largely African-American, and has long been our poster child for a member-leader run group over all of these years. We know if their homes are devastated, they will be hard-pressed to rebuild, and many will be forced to move. Organizers shed tears sometimes, too.
The Times used frighteningly effective metaphors for the danger to Lake Charles, a city of 80,000 near the Texas border at the Sabine River. In one instance they spoke of the lake as simply a “part of the Gulf of Mexico,” 30 miles away. A scientist referring to the oil and gas canals dug in the coast area spoke of them as a “hose” into the city, if hit directly. The storm seems to be one of the most powerful to hit the US coast in history.
We hang on to every tidbit of news, as if a life raft. A report that the storm surge may have only been eleven feet at the Calcasieu pass, rather than the predicted 15-20 feet, passes for good news. The slight veer to the east and the fact that Laura arrived after high tide had receded became other pieces we could grab and hold onto. No measuring gauges at the wildlife area to the west of the city likely caught the surge, and somehow that seems like good fortune.
Two days before the 15th anniversary of Katrina, and we still struggle to learn the lessons of climate change and storm intensity. We know in our hearts and minds how hard it has been to protect New Orleans, but we worry about whether anyone will care to protect the smaller cities like Lake Charles, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange, and more that line the coast from Florida to Texas.
Meanwhile I’ll keep watching the bayou ebb and flow, and despite knowing better, hope that this time will make a difference, even if too little, and too late for many.
Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International.