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Amid the Pandemic, Louisiana Educators Are Fighting Through the Fallout From a Hurricane. Lake Charles’s Devastation, By the Numbers

By Beth Hawkins | September 17, 2020

Flooding after the passing of Hurricane Laura on Aug. 28, 2020. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Even as Hurricane Sally made its excruciatingly slow way up the Gulf Coast, Louisiana lawmakers met to consider the damage inflicted by Hurricane Laura — the strongest storm to come ashore in the United States since 1856— on schools in and around the city of Lake Charles.

The 33,000-student district had spent the summer purchasing technology to hand out to families who chose to return to classes virtually, preparing school buildings for a resumption of in-person learning and stockpiling food for continued meal deliveries. But on Aug. 24, which was to have been the first day back, Laura slammed ashore, forcing the district to announce an indefinite closure. All those preparations washed away.

“There’s nothing that smells like a mildewed building and rotting food that’s been sitting on the ground for 10 days,” Karl Bruchhaus, superintendent of Calcasieu Parish Public Schools, which includes Lake Charles, told members of the state Senate Education Committee. Bruchhaus detailed the devastation with a series of astounding numbers:

74 of 76 schools damaged

15 schools without roofs

124 of 350 school buses operable

0 schools with internet

48 percent of families still sheltered outside the parish

12 percent in the parish but unable to return home

95 percent of the parish without power

97 percent of 11,000 families surveyed want to return to school as soon as possible

22 percent planning on distance learning only — before Laura wiped out internet at home

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72 percent of 2,351 teachers surveyed ready to teach online

55 percent of teachers with extensive damage to their homes

64 percent of teachers brought their laptops home when schools closed

$300 million estimated cost of rebuilding schools

100 hygienists assessing mildew and other health threats

$600,000 worth of food for students saved in freezers at the district’s central facility, one of a few with a generator

5 to 7: number of schools Bruchhaus hopes to reopen each week beginning the week of Sept. 28.

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