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Just when things were getting back to normal

My World's on Fire
Just when things were getting back to normal
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #36 • View online

Thanks for reading my World’s on Fire, a weekly newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. If you found this dispatch interesting, I hope you’ll subscribe!
Thank you to everyone who joined me in the comments for last week’s first-ever interactive thread! Stay tuned (and bookmark links to share) for another next month.
In the week since that newsletter reached your inbox, temperatures across the southern and central U.S. have spiked, with the Washington Postreporting that some places have seen 100-degree-plus temperature changes following a record-breaking cold snap. As the snow melts and residents across the regions hear the comforting clicks of power being restored to their homes – appliances rebooting, lights flickering on – millions are now reckoning with what happened.
The scope of this reckoning, of course, is different for different people. Those in wealthier neighborhoods with disposable income have been largely able to return to life as normal, maybe with some pledges to increase personal preparedness. Others are still dealing with difficulties fulfilling daily needs, like sourcing safe water and hot meals. Some people have seen their worlds shift precipitously due to the storm, having lost a loved one or experienced significant damage to their homes, rendering them unlivable. As always, there are the helpers.
And then, there are those who have been here before. Communities impacted by past disasters that are already familiar with what it means to live in the murky aftermath, when aid is uncertain and bills continue to pile up.
“It’s just deflating,” Erin Shoumaker said to me last week about the situation in her neighborhood, Lake Charles. I’ve written about the Louisiana city before, which was struck by Hurricane Laura in late August 2020 and Hurricane Delta less than two months later. For Earther, I described what it was like for residents to now deal with thundersnow, frigid weather, and power and water outages, which proved particularly challenging for residents still in the thick of storm recovery:
Structures repaired after the hurricanes have been damaged once again, and the debris that remained has iced over. On her third day without water and power, resident Cherrelle King expressed her frustration. “The hurricanes did quite a number on our family home,” King said. Her family fled to Texas at the time, paying for hotel rooms and other necessities until their shared savings ran low. When they returned to Lake Charles, they spent weeks without electricity. “Just when things were getting back to normal, here comes this winter storm that left us without any water or electricity for the past few days,” she said.
Another resident I spoke with, Karli Hale, talked about having “no walls and no ceilings” in parts of the hurricane-damaged section of her home, which she blocked off with a tarp to keep out the winter weather.
Karli
The inside of my house looks like this due to two hurricanes. Now SWLA is experiencing rolling blackouts, below freezing temps, and ice and people are like “lol red state.” 40% of Louisiana voted for Biden. Miss me with that shit. Lake Charles is NOT okay. https://t.co/ixMiF203H7
Hale, as you can see in her tweet, was frustrated by the response she saw online to this most recent storm. She felt like people have been largely focused on Texas and the attention she did see on Louisiana was politicized, negative, and dismissive of the city’s repeated plights.
“I don’t want to take away from any other area or state that’s going through this, because Texas is having a horrible time right now,” she said, “But Lake Charles, we’re in a particular kind of bind.”
Here’s the thing – that particular kind of bind isn’t just a challenge for Lake Charles, as hurricane climatologist Jill Trepanier explained to me in the article:
Rapidly intensifying storms like Laura are becoming more common, a phenomenon Trepanier has observed in her own research. She found that storms are now reaching their peak intensities closer to the Gulf Coast, which is of particular concern since the area is a petrochemical hub. And, as Hurricane Laura proved, the infrastructure is not prepared for these worsening storms. While it’s an area of active research, extreme cold snaps may also have ties to climate change as the Arctic rapidly warms, destabilizing the jet stream that normally traps the coldest air on Earth up there. On their own, these trends are problematic, but more worrisome is the shortening windows between extreme weather. “In the West, you’re seeing mudslides in places that just had forest fires not long ago,” Dr. Trepanier explained. “Similarly, you’ll see these ice outbreaks not long after a hurricane season.”
I know I’m not alone in admitting that my perception of time has become a bit warped during the pandemic. Writing this piece, I kept referring back to my calendar, wanting to make sure I had the correct timeline for the events in Lake Charles, which has experienced four federally declared disasters in the past twelve months. I traced back a year to the start of the pandemic, six months since Hurricane Laura, and four since Hurricane Delta, bringing me back to the present winter storm.
Then, out of curiosity, I looked forward, wanting to understand what this new window for recovery might be for Lake Charles.
Four months from now is June, when the Atlantic hurricane season typically begins.
Mendy🍀xo
This is downtown Lake Charles, Louisiana. You can see the effects of three weather related disasters. This is a community hurting, but strong in spite of the storms. #LakeCharlesStrong #Prayforus https://t.co/Ddsh0TOTjE
And, as always…
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Irene Conforti
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