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Opinion | I Take Back Everything I Said About Southwest Louisiana

It’s Ellen and her family with their grocery store in North Lake Charles, finding more community among their Black neighbors than among their white ones. Even so, after my mother lost her job at a pipe-and-supply warehouse when I was a kid, they had the grace to tell us, more than once: “Come to the store. Take whatever you need.”

It’s another friend, Jeremy Boudreaux — a drummer who survived Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma and now, 10 years later, runs the Village Music School. He posted photos on Facebook of his ruined business the day after the storm, roof gone, instruments buried under ceiling tiles and insulation. “My Pawpaw didn’t say a thousand Hail Marys when I was doing chemo for me to lay down when times got hard again,” he wrote.

Much of Southwest Louisiana is still uninhabitable. Its 200,000 residents are clearing fallen trees and power lines, tarping their roofs, scrambling for water to drink and food to eat and hotel vouchers and gas to get there. They’re filling out applications for FEMA aid and wading through the mud of insurance claims.

The high-drama images, the “disaster porn” — a casino boat lodged under the rickety I-10 bridge, toxic smoke pluming from a petrochemical plant, the fallen Confederate monument, a “skyscraper” (I mean, there’s really just the one) shredded by the gale — they don’t capture the real devastation, its pervasiveness and likely longevity.

I know you’re tired. We’re all tired. Every one of us is suffering our own losses, of every size and kind. This storm was, as one hurricane researcher said, “really, really bad instead of apocalyptic,” and in a year like this one, apocalyptic seems to be the threshold for newsworthiness.

Even in an ordinary year, an extraordinary hurricane holds this country’s attention for only so long. Two whole years after Hurricane Maria cut its brutal path through Puerto Rico in 2017, tens of thousands of survivors were “still living under leaky tarps,” The Times reported.

Distance — geographic and political — makes it easy to forget about these places. But please put aside some space to remember that hurricane victims are suffering. We need public pressure on insurance companies and government agencies (I’m looking at you, FEMA) to offer help in a timely fashion.

We need to know that our fellow citizens are rooting for us, and that compassion can reach even as far as a difficult-to-love place like Southwest Louisiana.

Stephanie Soileau is the author of the story collection “Last One Out Shut Off the Lights.”

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