Lake Charles, Again



“Here we are in Lake Charles, feeling like we are living out the book of Job in the Bible,” a Facebook friend wrote this week. “God has smitten us again.”

“Who else is tired of Survivor Lake Charles?” someone else wrote.

After a year with two hurricanes (Laura, August 2020, and Delta, October 2020) and an unusual ice storm (February 2021) that left the city without power or water for days, Lake Charles, Louisiana, had an unexpected flood this week.

The average month of May brings 5.2 inches of rain to Lake Charles. Monday the city got “more than” 12 inches—perhaps 15—of subtropical rain in a few hours, making it the third-worst rain event in the city’s history—more rain than with either of the 2020 hurricanes. As the water pools, cars can be completely submerged, and many homes were flooded. Schools were closed after parents struggled to pick up their children, including in airboats and kayaks.

(By comparison, two or three inches is a record single-day rain in most years in St. Louis; the high was 6.89 inches, in 1942.)

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said in a video statement, “[W]hen you look at these rain totals, they will meet the threshold of a 100-year event. And it’s getting to be perhaps a little of a misnomer to call these events ‘100-year events,’ because they are happening more often.”

Anyone who has lived on the Gulf Coast knows the torrential rains that often bring everything to a halt. They flood roads, stall cars, and make it impossible to see for a time. If you are outside, it is not about “getting wet” or “getting soaked.” It is not “like” standing in a shower. It is like being under a waterfall. But the sandy soil sheds water quickly once it stops raining, and ditches and bayous carry it away. Most floods disappear much more quickly than they arrive. This time, however, the flooding was so severe, so quickly, that I was waiting to hear that someone forgot to throw the lever on a sluice gate downstream, to release water in the bayous to the Gulf. Apparently this was not the issue, and the tide was not unusually high, which can also trap rainwater on shore.

My elder son, who was back from college and in the house we own there, reported that there were spiders, worms, and snails in the courtyard and on the doormats, trying to stay dry. Soon they were inundated. He went out to rescue our trash bin, which had been out for pickup. It was full and heavy, but when the water had risen it got buoyant, floated down the Class-III rapids of the ditch, and was wedged in the open end of a flooded culvert. I told him to be very careful, since hydraulic pressure can take anyone off their feet. Snakes and alligators can be out in the confused water, too, and fire ants make mats and float around until they find something to climb. He had to kick at the thigh-deep water in our driveway, because the spiders spotted him and starting swimming to him to catch a ride, but he accomplished his mission. Later there was trash all over the place, all over town, much of it still debris from the previous disasters.

On May 14, Mayor Nic Hunter vented his frustration on Facebook, under a photo he posted of a house missing its roof, and another that still had a “blue roof”—the temporary tarp used when a roof is damaged by a hurricane.

“This image is still the reality for many people here in Lake Charles,” he said. “Are Lake Charles citizens considered ‘less American’ than our brothers and sisters in other cities who have gone through major natural disasters? Has basic, human empathy evaporated from Washington DC? […]

“[H]ere we sit, 260 days after Hurricane Laura and we have no disaster relief package from Washington DC. This is madness. President Trump and the 116th Congress had an opportunity to act and now President Biden and the 117th Congress have an opportunity to act.

“Hurricane Laura, (the strongest hurricane to hit the state of Louisiana in 150 years) was followed 6 weeks later by Hurricane Delta (which brought more flooding than Laura) which was followed several months later by Winter Storm Uri (the strongest to hit Lake Charles in 25 years) all in the middle of the greatest Pandemic to hit the US in 100 years. We are in the middle of a great American tragedy. The only way out of this is through bipartisanship. Stop the madness. Get it done.”

Three days later came this most recent flood. And, the KPLC meteorologist says now, “Another 4 to 8 inches of rain through Friday night is not out of the question!”

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.