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Months after dual hurricanes, slow recovery for southwest Louisiana

Thousands of homes in southwest Louisiana main covered in blue tarps because of roof damage from Hurricanes Laura and Delta.
Many of the damaged homes in the areas impacted by Hurricanes Laura and Delta are now beset with toxic mold.
Renee LeBleu-Booth sits in front of her damaged home near Lake Charles, LA on Dec. 15, 2020. Hurricanes Laura and Delta caused extensive damage to her home and she and her husband have been unable to afford repairs. They had dropped their homeowners insurance before the hurricanes because her husband had been diagnosed with Leukemia and they needed to save money for his treatment.
Posted at 11:21 AM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 08:57:50-05

LAKE CHARLES, La. — The holiday decorations are up around Lake Charles. Yet, the most wonderful time of the year just simply isn’t right now for many there, like Renee LeBleu–Booth.

For a decade, she and her husband lived in their home, which is now missing a roof and beset by toxic mold because of Hurricane Laura.

“It was beautiful. I loved it,” LeBleu-Booth reminisced. “It's depressing, but we're thankful we got a roof over our head.”

Their temporary new home is an RV parked on their front lawn. It’s been a tough year for them, with her husband also battling leukemia, as they tried to save money for his treatment.

“We cut back on everything,” she said.

That included dropping their homeowner’s insurance, a crucial decision that’s now left them with no way to pay for repairs.

They’re not alone. Many are having trouble recovering from the one-two punch of Hurricanes Laura and Delta. About 46 percent of the people who live in the affected areas live paycheck to paycheck.

Getting government aid can be a long process and nonprofits are trying to fill in the gaps.

“We've moved into the long-term recovery phase,” said Denise Durel, with the United Way of Southwest Louisiana. “So, now, we're actually going to be putting homes back together of low-income people who don't have insurance on their homes or their property.”

However, she says a more permanent recovery is going to require many helping hands.

“We need to continue to let, you know, the rest of the country remember that we're here and we've got this huge challenge ahead of us still,” Durel said. “We're strong people and we take care of each other. But we just need help right now. We really just need help.”

Back at Renee LeBleu-Booth’s home, this longtime United Way volunteer now finds herself getting their help.

“It’s hard,” she said, adding of those at United Way, “The people were amazing.”

She said they are helping her restore her faith that they’ll find a way through.

“It's going to get better,” she said.

Hurricanes Laura and Delta left more than $14 billion in damages. So far, more than 236,000 insurance claims have been made in Louisiana. A federal judge recently approved a plan to deal with thousands of lawsuits expected to be filed by homeowners against insurers over disputes about damage assessments.