Phone alerts became important for Lake Charles residents like Justin Schroder, who sheltered downtown in facilities belonging to First Baptist Church. “This is a big place, and we knew we could move to the second or third floor if the storm surge was bad,” the McNeese State University adviser explained.
But it was wind, not water, that wreaked havoc there in the dark. A crowd of some 20 church members huddled inside while winds crumbled stone above the sanctuary’s entrance and splintered a multi-story expanse of stained-glass windows. Schroeder said the group did a lot of praying during those hours, and one family piled into a small bathroom and sang hymns: “We became a team. Some were good at technology, so they figured out how to turn off the alarms that kept sounding. We took care of the different generations. We shared our food.”
Outside the church, other teams formed, but the partial closure of main artery I-10 forced convoys of out-of-state utility trucks—tree removal, electric power, home storm repair—to detour north through damaged sugar cane fields and small towns where missing roofs caused insulation to drift like snow. By afternoon, portions of the interstate reopened, with strewn tin and bare billboards welcoming motorists to Lake Charles’ seven exits.
One of those exits leads to Broad Street, where downed power lines and poles blocked three lanes of traffic. A red Corvette sat atop a lift in the exposed rubble of an auto repair shop bay. In Orange Grove Cemetery, live oak branches cluttered above-ground tombs. Business owners at Lake Charles Instruments Inc., a company that specializes in liquid measurement for refinery customers, boarded broken windows. “We haven’t eaten all day,” a woman with red cheeks and a hammer said over her shoulder.