Hurricane Laura damaged 74 of 76 Calcasieu Parish public schools

‘Our estimate from our adjusters right now is $300 million,’ superintendent says

Lake Charles after Hurricane Laura
A U.S. Flag waves at half-mast in front of a damaged building on 11th Street after Hurricane Laura. (Photo by Wes Muller/LA Illuminator, Saturday Aug. 29, 2020.)

Calcasieu Parish Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus told the Louisiana Senate Education Committee Wednesday that damage to schools caused by Hurricane Laura is “considerably worse” than the damage caused by Hurricane Rita. Of the 76 public schools in the parish, Bruchhaus said, 74 of them had damage and 15 had extensive damage such as torn-off roofs. None of the schools have internet access.

“Our estimate from our adjusters right now is $300 million in (the Calcasieu parish school system) alone,” Bruchhaus said. “That’s 10 times what Rita was. In Rita, FEMA paid us $13 million and our insurance paid us $13 million, and we were whole.”

Calcasieu Parish schools reopened 24 days after Hurricane Rita. This time, Bruchhaus said, his plan is to reopen schools as they become ready. The plan is to reopen 5-7 schools by next week, he said. After that, the parish school board plans to reopen 5-7 schools about every week.

“We have a few of those 15 that had substantial damage, like we said, that may take a little longer,” Brachhaus said. “Those families will be offered virtual instruction until their school opens.”

According to a survey of 11,041 Calcasieu parish families, 40 percent of families are living in their homes, Bruchhaus said. He said 48 percent are not in the parish and 12 percent are in the parish but living in alternate living situations.

“Ninety-seven percent of our 11,000 said they’re coming back as soon as we’re open,” Brachhaus said. “That tells us the will is to return.”

Of the 2,351 teachers who responded to the survey, 55 percent have extensive damage to their homes, and of the teachers who are not currently living in their homes, 64 percent said they could teach remotely, the superintendent said. “We feel very strongly we’ll be able to get the rest of them a laptop.”

As the superintendent in the adjacent parish reported needing $300 million Cameron Parish Superintendent Charley Lemons said the Federal Emergency Management Agency still hasn’t fully paid the Cameron Parish School  Board for damage Rita caused 15 years ago.

Brachhaus jumped in and said FEMA was a difficult organization to work with after Hurricane Rita struck, but “now we understand the rigors of FEMA going forward.”

“Every ‘i’ dotted, every ‘t’ crossed, everything procured properly, and then you’re rolling the dice,” Brachhaus said. “It’s a negotiation process.”

Lynne Browning, assistant deputy director of public assistance for GOSHEP, also jumped in and offered to contact Lemons so he could send GOSHEP information about the lack of reimbursement money from FEMA.

Lemons said that 45-50 percent of the school system’s faculty “lost everything” and 60-70 percent of the houses “are not livable to anyone,” but reopening schools must be a priority because “If you do not put a school back in these communities, you don’t have anything.”

“We’re talking about rural schools,” he added. “That’s the heart and soul of some of these communities are these schools. So it’s our job to get them back up and going, and as soon as we do that, then you start to see that normalcy start to return.”