Life after Laura: Recovery stalls for Sulphur woman

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — Robin Baudoin’s home in Sulphur looks today just like it did the day after Hurricane Laura hit Southwest Louisiana with its catastrophic damage over four months ago. Its roof is completely gone and nearly all of her belonging are in shambles.

“The house is just wide open,” she said Monday. “It’s like someone took a big can opener on the roof.”

Today, Baudoin, 65, lives in a small garage apartment with her two dogs and three cats.

“It’s depressing for sure,” she said. “It’s almost like you have amnesia, like you have a former life. I manage to be really calm about it because it’s out of my hands. I guess one day it will catch up with me.”

Baudoin blames her insurance company for the lack of progress in getting her home repaired. Assessments by adjusters don’t reflect the true amount of damage, she said.

Findings from a Dec. 3 inspection by an outside forensic engineer sent by her insurance company are pending. The engineer told Baudoin she could not receive the report without the insurance company’s consent.

“I’ve done everything I can to cooperate with them, but they won’t cooperate with me,” she said.

RIDING OUT LAURA

Baudoin said she wanted to evacuate before Hurricane Laura’s landfall, but couldn’t because some friends wanted to stay at her home.

“Things happened so fast,” she said. “The forecast started changing. We just couldn’t leave under the circumstances.”

Baudoin rode out the storm in a bathroom with her pets and friends. As Laura bore down on Southwest Louisiana, she said she could hear her roof being torn off and her chimney being slammed into her courtyard.

“The walls of the house were shaking,” she said. “It’s like they were breathing in and out.”

Once the eyewall passed, a friend with a working phone called a neighbor down the street for help.

“They came and got us,” she said. “We were able to get the front door open. Bricks had come down from the chimney. We had to go out through the courtyard. We didn’t realize we were stepping over the roof because there were different parts scattered.”

Parts of Baudoin’s roof were scattered over three blocks. Because it was a certain shade of green, residents in the neighborhood posted pictures of the shingles on social media, she said.

“It was sort of a game for my neighborhood,” Baudoin said. “You have to find some way to keep your sense of humor going. People also found my decorations for Halloween, Christmas and Easter.”

The only items she salvaged were family photos and other sentimental items stored in tubs after Hurricane Rita’s 2005 landfall.

“That’s the smartest thing I ever did. I got that out, but everything else is gone,” she said.

The severity of the damage made installing a tarp impossible, Baudoin said.

“There’s nothing to connect it to,” she said. “The rafters are gone.”

INSURANCE PROBLEMS

Baudoin said she first spoke with her insurer two days after Laura’s landfall. She was told it would be three weeks before an adjuster could survey the home. The company offered to put her in a hotel in Lake Charles.

“They didn’t seem to get that there were no hotels,” Baudoin said. “I tried to explain to him it’s not going to happen. There was just a disconnect there from the beginning.”

The insurance company then offered to put Baudoin up at a hotel in Houston. She declined, saying she wanted to stay close to her job.

Baudoin’s friend, Diana Anderson, provided her with the garage apartment. Anderson is also the godmother of Baudoin’s daughter, Lydia, and son, Houston. The insurance company is paying for the apartment.

“We figured it would just be a little while,” she said. “Obviously, we’re going to be there for a while. There’s no other place to go.”

The first insurance adjuster came to the home around late September, Baudoin said. Several weeks later, the adjuster returned with his boss. After that, Baudoin received a report, stating the four bedroom, four bathroom home could be rebuilt for $134,000, with another $20,000 for contents inside the home.

“I can’t do that,” Baudoin said.

Baudoin said she hired an engineer/architect to survey the damage to her home. That report estimated repairs costing anywhere from $400,000 to $500,000.

“The second opinion was so blatantly opposite from the (insurance company),” she said. “They walked in and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It was in the report that this was the worst he had seen.”

A new adjuster called Baudoin Nov. 24 to introduce himself.

“I haven’t heard from him since,” she said.

WHAT NEXT?

Baudoin said she sometimes goes to her home on weekends to try and retrieve items strewn around her yard.

“I’ve been advised by professionals not to go there,” she said. “I go basically to keep the temporary fencing up to keep it safe.”

Baudoin was sharing the garage apartment with Lydia, who moved to Round Rock, Texas, earlier this month.

“I told her to get out of here,” she said. “She took the storm really hard. It was the only home she had ever known.”

Being unable to return to her home has been challenging, especially with no relief in sight.

“I know I’m not the only one,” she said. “I have to start all over again. I just want to know when I can.”