Resumption of airport services and recovery efforts underway after Hurricane Laura pummels Southwest Louisiana

Wednesday, September 16, 2020
LCH hanger picture

Heeding mandatory evacuation orders, twelve Lake Charles Regional Airport (LCH) officers and one Supervisory Transportation Security Inspector sought safer ground a day ahead of Hurricane Laura’s landfall late Wednesday, August 26. All LCH flights were suspended early in the day, as preparations to secure TSA’s assets and to plan for the safe movement of employees were finalized.

At TSA headquarters, the Critical Incident Management Group (CIMG) stood up on August 24 in support of the TSA operations response to the Gulf Coast storms and West Coast wildfires.

Louisiana FSD Arden Hudson, responsible for hub/spoke security operations for the state’s seven airports, kept the CIMG apprised of the state’s readiness ahead of the storm’s landfall. Once the storm was projected to strengthen to a major category four storm, Hudson requested evacuation orders be approved, moving LCH employees to designated safe havens until the storm passed.

Picture of hangar

Security Operations Mission Support provided travel orders and guidance to evacuees, as leadership activated accountability communication down the chain of command and moved recovery materials in position for a post-strike delivery to the hardest hit areas.

Packing winds of 150 miles an hour, Hurricane Laura crashed into the western Louisiana Gulf Coast and barreled up the west side of the state Wednesday night, knocking out power and leaving trees, houses, airport hangers and lives upended.

All TSA Louisiana and Texas team members were accounted for, however Hurricane Laura claimed the lives of at least fourteen people as she made her way north through the state.

When residents returned to survey the damage, they barely recognized the Southwest Louisiana town they call home. “I have lived in Lake Charles all my life and I have never seen this kind of devastation. This city is unrecognizable,” said TSO Gwendolyn Jones. “It will take years to recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Laura.”

LCH supplies

“It looks like a war zone, like a bomb went off here,” said Lead TSO Michael Morris. Damage assessments began at LCH on Thursday and a limited number of flights resumed on Saturday, August 29 under generator power. 

TSA-Louisiana came together to support the LCH operation by deploying officers from other state airports to stand up screening efforts. Logistically, officers are scheduled to the nearest airport from their home assignment to backfill. “This will continue as long as it has to in support of our officers,” said Deputy AFSD Brad Meyer.

Residents of the New Orleans area observed the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating affects just three days later and found themselves on the giving end during Laura’s aftermath and the beginning of a long recovery process. “I went to Lake Charles to check on my family members and friends who live there and were affected by Hurricane Laura,” said Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) Expert TSO Jay Ragusa. “Seeing for myself the massive devastation reminded me of all of the people that helped me after Hurricane Katrina." 

Ragusa took annual leave, loaded up a trailer of toiletries, sanitizing supplies, food, clothing and water and made a return trip to LCH days later. “It simply feels good to help people going through tough times, especially fellow TSA Officers,” said Ragusa.

“Although this is a very difficult time for our LCH team, I am optimistic and encouraged by the support we are receiving from all our teams in Louisiana,” said Supervisory TSO Debbie Crochet. “So many have come together to help us get through this difficult time. I would like to tell everyone how much we appreciate the support and love given LCH during this unimaginable event.”