Gulf of Mexico
Damage at Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary. Erik Johnson / National Audubon Society

LA - We're Just Figuring Out the Toll of Hurricane Laura

As Audubon Louisiana assesses damage to its coastal sites, including Rainey Sanctuary, people in Louisiana need help to recover from the storm.

Hurricane Laura hit southwest Louisiana last week as the strongest hurricane to affect the state since 1856, with winds up to 150 miles per hour. A total of 70 people were killed by the storm in the United States and the Caribbean, and an associated chemical fire at a chlorine plant in Lake Charles’s industrial region added even more strain to local communities. Widespread power outages, downed trees, and a lack of safe drinking water for many households means that recovery will continue slowly over the coming month. More than 11,000 people are evacuated to major cities like New Orleans, where Hurricane Katrina devastated communities 15 years ago.

The storm made landfall in coastal Cameron Parish, where Audubon Louisiana protects beach-nesting birds like Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers. Many areas remain impassible and disconnected from the outside world. There, entire automobiles and appliances lie stranded in the marshes where wind and waves dropped them, buildings are reduced to rubble, cellphone towers are down, and any tree still left standing is stripped of its leaves. Just to the north, in Calcasieu Parish, the cities of Lake Charles and Sulphur were also devastated by the hurricane.

Audubon’s staff in Louisiana are safe, and our hearts are with the people of southwest Louisiana, including many of our partners, volunteers, and supporters, that don’t have homes, schools, churches, or businesses to return to. To experience loss like this during a global pandemic adds an extra layer of grief and complexity to the recovery process.

How Hurricane Laura Affected Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary

In nearby Vermilion Parish, Audubon Louisiana staff assessed our oldest and largest bird sanctuary, the 26,000-acre Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary for storm damage. Since 1924, this remote living laboratory of coastal restoration has protected more 200 species of birds, but now is struggling with decades of rising sea levels. Situated on the very edge of Louisiana’s coast, the sanctuary is no stranger to storm surge, and staff there have created a series of elevated earthen terraces that protect the adjacent wetlands from the worst effects of storms and provide nesting habitat for birds. Rainey provides opportunities to study real-time impacts and develop strategies for climate change and sea level rise adaptation.

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