Lake Charles Is a Scene of Floods and Destruction

Lake Charles, La., is taking stock of the damage wrought by Hurricane Rita. The eye of the storm passed over the town of 75,000, smashing lakefront casinos and ruining entire blocks. But while widespread flooding damaged homes and businesses, there has been one bright spot: No deaths have been reported.

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Across the border in Louisiana, Lake Charles began taking stock today of the damage wrought by Hurricane Rita. The storm made a direct hit on this town of 75,000, smashing lakefront casinos, ruining entire blocks and flooding some neighborhoods. NPR's Wade Goodwyn is there today and has this report.

WADE GOODWYN reporting:

In Lake Charles, there are the casinos, a nice little downtown and a lovely lakefront with beautiful homes and lawns leading down to the water. All sustained major damage from Hurricane Rita, but most everything in this part of town is covered by insurance. But wind your way down Enterprise Street to the poor section of Lake Charles, where a row of shotgun houses sit close, here you'll find the damage that's not going to be so easy to fix. Irma Chaives(ph), in her 60s, is sweeping up glass on her porch, and like many who stayed behind, she's desperate for a cigarette.

Ms. IRMA CHAIVES: I wish I'd have been coming back to Pickney's Package(ph) to buy me some cigarettes, but I guess the Lord might want me to quit.

GOODWYN: Compared to the nuclear blast that Biloxi and Gulfport experienced from Hurricane Katrina, what Chaives is suffering is minor, except that it's not.

Ms. CHAIVES: I'm cleaning up some of the glass that shattered my new storm door. It bust two windows, took half of the roof off. All the ceiling tile is coming down in my dining room and in my bedroom. It's sad, but I'm blessed, yeah.

GOODWYN: Irma Chaives has no insurance, but she's got a phone number for the Red Cross. And as soon as she gets phone service, she says she's going to call and see what they can do for her.

(Soundbite of traffic)

GOODWYN: Around the block, standing on the side of the road next to an old Chevrolet Impala with its hood up, is Warren Provost. His house is under water in Port Arthur, so he's come to help his family here in Lake Charles. There's a small look of desperation in Provost's eyes. He decided not to evacuate, and now in the heat and humidity and all alone with a broken car and no one to help him, that mistake is being brought home to him full force.

Mr. WARREN PROVOST: If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it a different way, you know? I could have just left all this behind from the get-go, you know, and just do something different.

GOODWYN: Across town Lake Charles police Officer Jason Schnocke(ph) stands on Ryan Street with dark sunglasses on his face and a 9mm on his hip. Schnocke says there were a few attempts at looting after Rita came through, but the police department took care of that. After the mess in New Orleans, Lake Charles PD was determined there would be nothing like that in Calcasieu Parish, and there hasn't been. The biggest challenge is that there are parts of this town that are still flooded that authorities haven't been able to get to yet.

Officer JASON SCHNOCKE (Lake Charles Police Department): We haven't been able to make it down that far. There are still quite a bit of roads. What they're doing now is trying to clear the main roads so we can get further back and deeper back into those subdivisions and those houses that are on the waterfront.

GOODWYN: There are no business open, nothing. But in true Louisiana tradition, the one place that is open is Pappy's Bar & Grill. Richard Fark(ph) is the manager. For two days he's been feeding cops and firemen and anybody who needs a cool, not cold, beer. At 10 in the morning, he already has several takers.

Mr. RICHARD FARK (Manager, Pappy's Bar & Grill): People are coming by, like, families, like, `We're thirsty, we're hungry.' I give them sandwiches, and I give them Cokes and drinks, whatever I got. If you want a beer or two beers, I'll give it to you. If you want--you know, whatever you need, if I've got it, you've got it.

GOODWYN: Fark stayed in the bar by himself as Rita blew threw. He's former military, but Fark says he got pretty scared.

Mr. FARK: It was bad. It sounded like somebody was bowling on the roof with things bouncing off of it. I mean, it--screaming. I mean, the building's just kind of (makes noise) shaking.

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Mr. FARK: The worst was just about sunrise. Just before sunrise, you could see the sun coming up, and you could see the large things bouncing down the road, like, `OK, what was that?' I got my girlfriend out, her dogs out. She gave me her Jeff Gordon teddy bear, and I sat with the Jeff Gordon teddy bear and we just watched. Me and the Jeff Gordon doll hugged real hard till sunrise.

GOODWYN: In Louisiana, you hug your NASCAR teddy bear when the big blow comes, even if you're a barrel-chested National Guardsman. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Lake Charles, Louisiana.

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