Vagabond Views: Hating After the Hurricane

Having completed a bit of remodeling and a whole lot of redecorating of my travel trailer, I put my possessions on an extreme weight loss program, and, on the ides of August, moved full-time and permanently into my 224-square-foot tiny home.

Since I had not yet found quite the right vehicle to tow the Snuggery around, the grand plan had been for my daughter and son-in-love to come with their pick’em’up and, over Labor Day weekend, move my life-in-a-box from the capital area to an RV campground near them, just outside Kinder.

The threatened arrivals of both Marco and Laura altered the timing of that plan.

As of Saturday, August 22, the predictions showed the paths of the back-to-back storms crisscrossing over Baton Rouge. The Snuggery was next door, in Denham Springs, less than a half mile from the Amite River. My daughter and her husband, who had lived a mile from that river in August 2016 and lost everything in the flood, feared I would face the same this time. Hence the decision was made to make the move to Kinder on Sunday the 23rd.

It seemed the wisest course of action at the time.

Unfortunately, Laura had other ideas. Marco fizzled out, but Laura became a raging, wet, blustering inferno of tropical detestation and devastation. In a duel between an aluminum sided, 7500-pound total weight travel trailer and a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds in the eyewall of 150 miles per hour, it was fairly certain that the hurricane would win. I locked down and locked up everything I could, then got in my SUV and went bye-bye to Baton Rouge. I took the title to my trailer and the insurance policy on it with me, fully expecting I would ultimately be calling the 1-800-CLAIMS number to report the total loss of my mini-mansion.

Imagine my relief to get this picture, along with a text message and a video late Friday afternoon, the 28th, saying both travel trailers had survived, undamaged! Water was restored Tuesday, September 1, and on Thursday the 3rd, armed with a 4000-watt generator and multiple jugs of fuel for same, I returned to my tiny home. Electricity was restored to the RV park on the 9th.

The day before the power returned, I found the trailer-towing truck I’d been seeking, so the next time evacuation becomes appropriate, I can take my Snuggery full of stuff with me. (Considering the Mardi Gras parade of disturbances, storms, and hurricanes that has lined up across the Atlantic this week, doesn’t it look like the gods of the tropics may have taken my preparations for “the next time” as a challenge?)

Laura swiped the signs that marked the road into the RV park where we stay, but she left us an alternative landmark so we’ll know where to turn. Still, we were immeasurably fortunate. The same can not be said for oh so many others.

Family and friends in Lake Charles and Sulphur are still struggling through brutal heat – with no power to run even a fan – to remove trees and limbs, try to tarp what’s left of their home and business structures, and salvage whatever they can until they can rebuild. My son is one of those. He took a live oak to his roof.

Yet, two blocks down the street from his home, this graffiti on a warehouse wall shouts defiance and the commitment to come back.

A couple of days after my return to the RV park, I listened in as the park owner was chatting with a couple of other campers, hoping to get an update on electricity restoration. We were all commiserating with the one trailer owner who was there to meet his insurance adjuster and try to rescue what he could, after Laura laid a pine tree with a 4-foot diameter trunk down on his trailer and pickup. One of the good ol’ boys – who had moved away several months previously and “just stopped by to see how things was” – launched a barrage of invective, blaming everything from the hurricane to the heat, from COVID-19 to the cost of living on “that idiot governor.” (That’s the only polite and printable term this man used, when referring to Gov. John Bel Edwards.)

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but having spent the previous twenty-plus years doing news in the state capital where there’s a custom of civility, the level of loathing being expressed toward the governor was stunning.

Yet as I looked around, past the storm damage, I saw vivid reminders that many, many of the white rural residents of the Cajun prairie are ardent Trump supporters, so displeasure with any of Gov. Edwards’ actions or inactions should have been expected. And as I listened to more voices, I found that even my own family members were upset with the governor.

Their anger revolved around the oft-repeated headlines quoting “We dodged a bullet.”

They did acknowledge this was technically true, since Hurricane Laura’s predicted “unsurviveable” storm surge did not coincide with high tide, but still felt, in view of the massive amounts of damage Laura left behind, the phrasing lacked empathy for all those facing loss of their possessions and homes.

The author’s son’s home in Lake Charles.

“It is clear that we did not sustain and suffer the absolute, catastrophic damage that we thought was likely,” is what Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards actually said. “But we we have sustained a tremendous amount of damage.”

Unplanned, unwanted skylight at house in Lake Charles.

You see, it was NOT Louisiana’s Democratic governor who said, “We dodged a bullet.” That statement was made by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican.

With power out, the southwest Louisiana radio and TV stations weren’t able to broadcast, but southeast Texas was still up and running. And the “unsympathetic” governor southwest Louisianans heard in the immediate aftermath of Laura was not their own, although they were ready to believe the worst from him.

How should – how could – Gov. John Bel Edwards repair the inadvertent damage to his reputation and soften some of the animosity this has created for him in southwest Louisiana?

Grab your people – your staff and your full cabinet (heck, bring along the entire Unified Command Group) – and come spend the weekend working beside us under the hot sun, sweating in the humidity and swarmed by bugs. Help us – in person – pick up the pieces of our homes and lives. Call me, Gov. I can hook you up.

And you can give some of the people here the opportunity to see past the “D” to the genuinely caring human being who wears the title of “Governor.”

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Sue Lincoln
Sue Lincoln is a veteran and widely-respected reporter who has been covering Louisiana politics for nearly three decades. Originally from Long Beach, California, Sue’s career in journalism began on the radio in Los Angeles. After moving to Louisiana, Sue earned her bachelor’s degree. For ten years, from 2000-2010, she was the Assistant News Director at Louisiana Network. Sue also worked as the education reporter for Louisiana Public Broadcasting and has contributed to various state publications as a freelance journalist. But she is perhaps best known as the voice of the popular politics Capitol Access.