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Coushatta tribe begins long road to recovery after Hurricane Laura

Coushatta tribe begins long road to recovery after Hurricane Laura
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More than three weeks after Hurricane Laura made landfall on the Gulf Coast, the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana is rebuilding after sustaining what tribe Chairman David Sickey called “unprecedented and unreal” damage from the storm.

But the destruction could have been a lot worse for the nearby community.

Tom Rodgers, a member of the Blackfeet Nation and a strategic adviser to Sickey, described how the Coushatta tribe provided shelter, water and power to first responders and helped local public and private entities immediately before and after the hurricane.

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“The tribe, even as their lands were compressed and taken away from them over these hundreds of years, they have stepped up for the community,” Rodgers said.

That level of support has not been matched by the federal government, according to Sickey.

He said there was limited outreach from the federal government to the tribe beyond a brief conversation with Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyMichigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test GOP Rep. Mike Bost tests positive for COVID-19 Top Democrats introduce resolution calling for mask mandate, testing program in Senate MORE (R-La.) two weeks after the storm hit in which the senator expressed his support “in any way he possibly can for the Coushatta tribe.”

The tribe, meanwhile, has helped repair public roads and offered resources to fellow local leaders like Clair Hebert Marceaux, the director of the Port of Cameron, Sickey said.

“We have to rebuild,” Marceaux said. “And it’s with help from people like David Sickey and the Coushatta people who came here and installed that generator that helps us start to get our economy back and running.”

Marceaux described the extent of damage.

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“Our once lush and beautiful, green grass is now brown and muddy and dead. There’s the smell of dead animals and all of our beautiful 100-plus year-old oak trees are stripped bare. It’s desolate and isolated and there’s no power and no water,” she said.

Sickey argued that the devastation from the hurricane in the entire region of southwest Louisiana was “not being adequately given exposure” by both the media and policymakers.

On Aug. 28, President TrumpDonald John TrumpMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE approved Louisiana's disaster declaration request, allowing federal aid to flow to the state following the displacement of tens of thousands of residents.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved more than $110 million for 21 parishes in Louisiana.

The storm killed 28 and caused an estimated $1.6 million in damages.

“I have never seen the level of damage to the forestry here in the region. Entire properties are mowed down, and you can clearly tell there were many, many tornadoes. More so than I have seen in previous storms,” Sickey said.

The southwestern region of Louisiana includes Allen Parish, home to an assortment of small towns with a population of a little more than 25,000, including the Coushatta tribe and its 667 members in Louisiana.

Sickey said that during the storm, the Coushatta Casino Resort sheltered approximately 100 tribal members as well as individuals from the National Guard, Cajun Navy, nearby local law enforcement and energy companies.

“We’ve historically done this before in the past with previous storms. Coushatta Casino Resort became a shelter to house tribal families. In addition to that, we even housed workers, employees and associates that worked for the casino,” he said, adding they “were housed and sheltered, at no expense to them.”

Besides housing, Sickey described how the tribal government maintenance team cleared public roadways covering “over 20 miles between six roads,” which he called “major arteries” for emergency services.

The tribe also provided nearly 50 generators and air conditioning units to elderly residents.

“We’re very proud of the fact that the tribe uses its resources and manpower to assist the local and regional communities in clearing out roadways, especially during times of natural disasters,” he said, while acknowledging the challenges faced going into the storm.

“In this case, Laura was different because it was a Category 4,” Sickey said. “It was a very strong, intense storm.”