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Hurricane Laura Recovery Could Take Years


President Trump traveled to Lake Charles, La., today to survey the damage from Hurricane Laura. The storm killed at least 14 people, but the death toll could still rise. Wind speeds upwards of 150 miles an hour upended whole towns and neighborhoods. NPR's Kirk Siegler sent us this report from one of those hard-hit areas.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Driving the country highways outside Hackberry, La., towering power poles are bent diagonally, dangling precariously, some just snapped in two. Their wires are all over the road here. You see massive old-growth trees completely overturned, their exposed dirt roots the size of pickups. And farther along, trailer homes are completely leveled, just eerie wooden skeletons. Some larger homes are still intact. But, you know, best-case scenario, they're just missing their roofs.

HAYLEY LEBLEU: Our whole back of our tin roof was ripped off like it was a sardine can.

SIEGLER: Haley LeBleu is back after riding out the storm for a night with her sister over in Lafayette. Her generator's humming in the background. She and her husband are staying in their home for now. They've got one room cordoned off with an air conditioner. The heat and humidity are unbearable.

LEBLEU: We are scared about what will happen for the future. We don't know how long we'll be able to stay. We're planning to possibly leave within the next two weeks if we're not able to get power and water. We don't have running water.

SIEGLER: LeBleu's husband was laid off for four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, and he only just got hired back on as a sand blaster at a nearby plant. Then, one week later, Laura hit.

LEBLEU: Were struggling a lot.

SIEGLER: So is Danny Franklin just a little bit farther down the road.

DANNY FRANKLIN: This here's the worst one we ever been through, you know, as far as the wind.

SIEGLER: Now his sturdy wood home is still standing. He built it after Hurricane Rita in 2005 took out his old trailer home that used to be here. He and his family were watching the forecast for Laura and decided not to evacuate.

FRANKLIN: You know, the only reason we stayed - 'cause they started off at, you know, a one. Then it was going to be a two. Then it was going to die back down to a one when it hit land, you know? Then it got up to - what? - a four, a high four, almost five. By then, we was stuck anyway, you know? We couldn’t leave.

SIEGLER: He says they'll never ride a hurricane out again, though. One upside is that he's here to help out his neighbors, repairing some roofs, cooking meals for anyone who needs food. And he's lucky. He's the only one on this road with well water, a lifeline.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Hackberry, La. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.