Monday, September 26, 2005

Lafayette and hurricane Rita

While Lafayette Pro Fiber is determinedly local in its content and by design addresses the people of our community most directly it has a significant minority of its readers from outside our area who've become interested in and supportive of Lafayette. We are very grateful for the broader attention, especially during these last few weeks.

I've had some inquiries from friends who are watching national TV and are understandably concerned about those in Louisiana for whom they've developed some sympathy. This post is directed at our friends beyond the our region.

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Thanks for your thoughts. Lafayette was again very, very lucky. While we were on the "bad," eastern side of the storm and experienced a lot more "weather" than during Katrina we didn't see the effects of a major hit as we did during Lilli 3 years ago. High wind, downed trees, a lot of rain, a couple of days without electricity or internet--what we'd regard as "normal" hurricane consequences.

We again have a lot of refugees in town, but this time they are our immediate neighbors, folks who come and shop in town and who are as likely to have a relative live in town as to not have one. The new group is mostly from Iberia and Vermilion parishes to our south and southeast. Another large number of people have been quietly absorbed into people's homes. Because the number of people who live in the marsh areas is much less than in New Orleans and because their larger community networks are not so uniformly devastated the refugee problem will be much smaller. (The computer network Lafayette Coming Together and the Chamber/Zydetech have been running is still up and will get a new lease on life.)

A larger issue is the city of Lake Charles. Relatively few people evacuated east to our area from Lake Charles as authorities made it clear that Baton Rouge and Lafayette were at capacity from Katrina and urged people to flee directly north on back roads. Lake Charles was hit very hard and the infrastructure rebuild will take weeks. But it was not flooded and people who stayed during the storm did not face challenges after the storm as did the people in New Orleans.

The devastation in Louisiana was coastal and in places total. The greatest portion was storm surge which in Louisiana can reach 30 miles "inland" over a vast expanse of marshland. The small towns of Cameron and Vermilion are gone.

On a personal note my brother-in-law lives and practices medicine in Sulfur outside of Lake Charles and his children live in Lake Charles. Their houses are mostly ok with barns or carports ripped up but one child's house has substantial structural damage from a tree falling on it. The family camp at Constance beach on the gulf is reportedly simply gone: one section has vanished and another pushed across the road. The family evacuated in a caravan to my sister-in-law's family in the north Louisiana delta and are all fine. They are going to put the kids in school up there for awhile...I think this is a pretty typical story. Hardship, yes, but most folks have places to go and some real support networks that kick in quickly enough so that the wait for official support is not too trying.

It's been a long several weeks here. Lafayette is almost surrounded by folks who've really lost a lot. We just got bad weather, some cleanup, and a couple of days without air conditioning.

Gratefully and sorrowfully, John

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