Recovering from a hurricane is a process that can take years
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
It's hurricane season, a season of anxiety for people in Lake Charles, La. Three years ago, two hurricanes hit this town near the Gulf of Mexico over the course of several weeks. As Stephan Bisaha of the Gulf States Newsroom reports, the recovery is still going slowly.
STEPHAN BISAHA, BYLINE: There's one simple way to measure Lake Charles' recovery.
BRAYLON HARRIS: People will come by, and they'll count the blue roofs.
BISAHA: Braylon Harris is talking about the blue tarps that cover still unrepaired roofs. He's the director of Southwest Louisiana Responds, which helps coordinate aid across this city of 80,000 people. Lake Charles sits in the southwestern corner of Louisiana. The casinos and chemical plants reopened long ago, while downtown restaurants are back selling fried shrimp. But many homes still need repairs, even the ones without blue tarps, Harris says.
HARRIS: We're riding by what is probably three blocks of houses. Every one of them has new roofs. Just look in the windows, though. Nobody's home.
BISAHA: That's because they still need to be gutted after rain rotted their insides.
VANESSA BELONEY: You pull up at this house, it looks good. The outside looks pretty.
BISAHA: Vanessa Beloney has spent the last three years making repairs to her home, and still her living room floor has a big gap. It had caved in after the rains.
BELONEY: I wouldn't let nobody, really, come to my house. I work at a law firm. I know how it works. So I was like, you're not coming to my house and then sue me (laughter).
BISAHA: Beloney had a home warranty instead of insurance, but it ended up not covering any of her damages. She's a legal assistant. And to this day, she hears of clients fighting insurance companies for payouts.
BELONEY: So I see that every day, every single day, at work.
BISAHA: Now, Hurricane Laura hit early in the pandemic. That delayed help from FEMA and aid groups, which left people and their homes vulnerable when Hurricane Delta hit just six weeks later. Beloney's own house still needs a lot of work, and she's not sure if she wants to spend the money.
BELONEY: Because hurricane season may be coming again, so we just feel like we're in the same predicament all over again, you know? I'm sorry.
BISAHA: That tension rises across Lake Charles whenever it rains.
HARRIS: When it rains...
SARA DROTT: There's panic.
BISAHA: That's Braylon Harris again and Sara Drott with Southwest Louisiana Responds. The humidity means mold is a big deal here. So even though it's about 100 degrees today, Harris is not praying for rain.
HARRIS: Anyone here in southwest Louisiana - give us dry and hot any day rather than the anxiety and the concerns.
DROTT: But also, a hot summer heats up all the water in the Gulf...
DROTT: Which makes for a crazy hurricane season.
HARRIS: Yeah. Yeah.
BISAHA: Warmer waters in the Gulf this summer caused scientists to predict this season would have more storms than usual. Hurricane Idalia hit Florida during the heart of hurricane season, which runs through mid-October. For Harris and others in Lake Charles, relief comes from faith. Though, the centers of that worship are also still recovering.
UNIDENTIFIED PREACHER: If I lost my clothing, I'll be all right.
UNIDENTIFIED CHURCHGOERS: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED PREACHER: But if I lost my joy, I don't know.
BISAHA: The Breath of Life Praise and Worship Center had its sanctuary destroyed by Hurricane Laura, so the congregation now gathers in the church's former gym for Sunday service. Only four people showed up, including Zina Siverand. Many of the other members have not moved back to Lake Charles.
ZINA SIVERAND: When one or two are gathered, it's still OK because God is in the presence. But we are used to having a larger church family. It's hurting. It hurts.
BISAHA: The church only just started rebuilding the sanctuary. The debris and rotted sheetrock was finally gone when Siverand walked through it for the first time since repairs began.
SIVERAND: Oh, wow. This is nice.
BISAHA: It's still mostly empty, needing everything from pews to new flooring. But to Siverand, this is a blessing.
SIVERAND: This place was destroyed, just like my home. I wasn't sure when we were going to come back in the sanctuary.
BISAHA: Siverand says surviving the storms has made her more prepared. But two things haven't changed, the hope for a quiet hurricane season and the knowledge that it's out of her control.
For NPR News, I'm Stephan Bisaha in Lake Charles, La. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.