LAKE CHARLES, La. — Leonard “Country” Harrison, 49, hit the road toward Cameron Parish, the coastal Louisiana region that bore the brunt of Hurricane Laura’s damage on Thursday morning. He’s here as a member of the “Cajun Navy,” arriving from Mebane, N.C., in his high-water truck — nicknamed “Goliath” — to help anyone he could find.
The road south was littered with debris, and he encountered several people who needed his help.
Florine Richard, 85, stood in front of her Lake Charles home of 42 years, looking over the damage. Multiple trees crashed through her roof, severely damaging the living room, kitchen and bathroom, she said.
Harrison handed Richard a three-day supply of food and several water bottles.
“Sweetheart, look at it this way,” he told her. “It’s just a house. You’re okay, and it’s just a house.”
Harrison, a veteran of three hurricanes who lends his services to those in need, spent Wednesday night in his 10,000-pound truck, awaiting the chance to get out and help first thing. Laura stood out to him as “absolutely” the worst storm he’s experienced.
“I’ve never had my truck lifted or moved before,” he said. “Last night, it moved six inches, twice. That was the fastest-moving storm I’ve seen, and it had to be the most destructive.”
Harrison said he drove to Louisiana as soon as he heard there were double storms barreling toward the state — Marco, which fizzled out as it approached the U.S. coastline, and Laura, which became a monster storm before it struck the Louisiana shore.
Here, he is serving as the on-the-ground director overseeing a crew of 16 volunteers working to assist with rescues and supply distribution in Laura’s aftermath.
As he headed further into Lake Charles, Harrison stopped to help Martha Blanchette, 76, and her husband, Larry Blanchette, 78, who stood in their flooded front yard. Harrison assisted Larry Blanchette in moving the couple’s heavy generator. In Cameron Parish, further south still, Harrison stopped to offer a 72-hour survival pack to Troy Silfee.
Silfee, 45, stayed in his Grand Lake home during the storm.
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“I really lucked out,” he said. “I have screenshots where my house is pinged, and the eye of the storm passed right over here.”
Silfee said the initial impact of the storm was “a cake walk.” But when the second edge of the eye passed overhead, water began gushing through his covered windows. Silfee reluctantly accepted some of Harrison’s additional offerings: some gas for his chain saw, a flashlight with batteries attached, and a single Coca-Cola.
As Harrison tried to reach the coastline, hoping to move his efforts toward actual rescues, members of the Cameron Parish Sheriff’s Department halted his journey.
The area was chaos, officers told him, with no roads or waterways accessible, not even for rescues.
“That is not good, when they turn back the rescue squads,” Harrison said.
So Harrison headed back to Lake Charles, where he found Blake Bonsall, 31, who had just arrived at the home he shares with his wife and 1-year-old daughter. The structure was completely flattened.
Saddles, coolers and children’s toys were visible among the debris.
Bonsall and his brother, nephew and father searched through the piles for anything worth salvaging. The family found two dogs, alive, trapped in the rubble. Bonsall looked forlorn as he surveyed the scene.
“This sucks,” he said.
Harrison gave the men some Gatorade before heading out.
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