After Hurricane Laura’s Category 4 winds shredded through southwestern Louisiana this week, many of those who evacuated are now returning home, only to find their communities reeling from the damage. At least 10 people were reported dead as a result of the storm’s impacts.
Power outages were still widespread in the region, and at least 200,000 people were without water because of the outages, according to Louisiana’s Department of Health.
The largest hospital in the Lake Charles area, already running on generator power, was forced to evacuate 146 patients after officials learned it could be weeks before its water supply would be restored. Two other hospitals in the area have also transferred patients due to a lack of power and water.
Hurricane Laura is estimated to have caused up to $12 billion in damages, less than feared, in part because the storm didn’t linger or stall and also avoided heavily populated urban areas. In comparison, Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion in damages in 2017.
On Friday, Laura had been downgraded to a tropical depression and was bringing rain and thunderstorms to Arkansas and Missouri.
Hurricane Laura response shipments were staged for departure at Direct Relief’s warehouse on Friday, including a shipment to Houston-based NACC Disaster Services. The group was deploying mobile food trucks and mobile showers to Louisiana to serve evacuees, and requested over-the-counter medicines and supplies, as well as personal care hygiene items.
Leighton Jones, Director of U.S. Emergency Response for Direct Relief, has been coordinating with emergency responders in Louisiana, who reported that search and rescue operations are still taking place in many parishes from Lake Charles to Shreveport.
Direct Relief extended an expanded emergency response alert Friday to include more than a dozen health facilities in Arkansas, and an additional 18 facilities in Austin, Houston and San Antonio, cities where many evacuees have been housed.
The organization has also been coordinating with Texas Emergency Management, Texas Public Health Department, Louisiana Public Health, Louisiana VOAD, Texas VOAD, and the Texas Red Cross.
In addition to medical aid shipments and hurricane preparedness packs stationed across the U.S. Gulf Coast, Direct Relief has also been providing information and disaster response insights to local and regional governments and emergency responders. Information about social vulnerability, population movement, and Covid-19 case data has been evaluated in the context of the storm’s path.
Ongoing Health Concerns
Adding to the health challenges, the region is dotted by petrochemical refineries and industrial processing plants. A chemical plant in Westlake, Louisiana that produces chlorine for swimming pools caught fire on Thursday in the storm’s aftermath, and officials urged residents to stay in their homes.
Health experts are particularly concerned about air pollution contributing to a higher risk of adverse effects from the coronavirus. Poor air quality can also exacerbate pre-existing conditions like chronic asthma or bronchitis.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic also creates an additional challenge during evacuations, and health officials expressed concern about case counts increasing as people returned to their homes. Disaster clean-up also brings its own set of health risks, and respiratory issues, rashes, and cuts that might put a person at risk for tetanus or other infection are common.
Since before the hurricane made landfall, Direct Relief has been in contact with dozens of partner health facilities in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The organization has also been coordinating with the Primary Care Associations of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, and the Free Clinic Association of Texas.
The organization will continue to respond to requests from local providers as they arise.