Apartment Complex Rebuilding After Laura Damaged By Tornado

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — Rising after a hard knock can be wrenching, but for Claudette Price — who has just endured her fourth punch — accepting defeat is not an option.

In the three years she has been the leasing manager for the Claire Gardens Apartments, she’s lived through two hurricanes, flooding and — on Oct. 27 — a tornado.

“Hurricane Laura was the devil and then (Hurricane) Delta tried to beat it,” Price said. “It’s just been horrible.”

Price, who said she initially did not plan to evacuate for Laura, ultimately took shelter at her parents’ house in Texas until the storm passed.

When she returned, the damage was “unreal.”

“We came back and we lived on generators for almost two months,” she said. “There was no electricity, no Internet.”

Price said she spent her days assessing damages for multiple insurance claims at the 126-unit property — which originally was used as officer housing when Chennault International Airport was an airbase — while her pre-teenage children helped other staff members clear damage.

“Schools were closed at the time so they stayed with me helping to empty the 12 units we lost.”

Many of the residents who evacuated left their pets behind so Price, who lives onsite, said her unit became a makeshift animal shelter.

“My unit didn’t receive any damage from Laura, but it flooded during Delta,” she said. “I had rental insurance, thankfully, so my travel expenses were covered for Laura, but the flooding wasn’t. I had to sweep out the water and just move on.”

Price said one resident was so shaken by Hurricane Laura, she moved to another city.

“She said, ‘Mrs. Claudette, you can have whatever you want because I’m not coming back.’ She packed up her kids’ beds and left everything else. That’s how people who stayed were able to redo their houses after the flooding.”

Another resident stayed behind and helped board broken windows, clear properties and tarp roofs.

“He really stepped up and helped us with so many projects, and now he’s a staff member.”

She said the residents who live in the Claire Gardens Apartments treat each other as family.

“Neighbors help neighbors, we are a team,” she said. “If someone went out to get food, they got it for everyone. If someone went out and got supplies, they got it for everyone. We all looked out for each other.”

More than a year after the storms, 20 units still need to be repaired.

“They have roofs on them, but they’re still gutted on the inside.”

Price said she thought her world was slowly getting back to normal until last month’s tornado struck.

The National Weather Service classified the tornado as an EF2 with estimated winds of 130 mph.

“We just had three families move back in for the first time since Hurricane Laura and now this happens,” she said. “They were just now getting back to their apartments because the damage was just unreal.”

Price was working in the office when the storm approached and said she took shelter in the lobby’s bathroom.

“We knew we were going to be having bad weather, but not this bad.”

The storm wrecked nearly 40 homes in the south Lake Charles area, damaged three city buses and damaged a parish transit building.

“The next day, it was reported that all these homes in south Lake Charles had been damaged. They said these people owned their own homes and they were just getting back from the hurricanes. I get it. It’s terrible. But what about us in east Lake Charles? They forgot about us. We lost everything over here, too. How the mayor feels about Lake Charles being forgotten after Hurricane Laura, that’s how I feel about Claire Gardens.”

Price said the storm completely gutted one unit, caused two sliding glass doors in other units to “explode” and broke several windows across the complex.

“In the unit that is now completely unlivable, the roof was taken off and the carport came crashing down on the resident’s vehicle,” she said. “Just because our residents don’t own their own homes, doesn’t mean that they didn’t suffer any less. Some lost everything they had.”

Price said most of her tenants have lived in the complex 10 and 20-plus years.

“This is a happy place, it has so much history here and people should be proud of this area,” she said. “I love living here, I love the community. I have no plans to leave.”