Hurricane Laura brought record wind speeds and widespread devastation to Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana.
Fort Bend County Judge K.P. George coordinated with local Christian and Islamic faith leaders and the Red Cross to utilize churches and mosques as collection sites for supplies to benefit those affected by Hurricane Laura in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana from Sept. 3-7.
The supplies drives were held at 14 different facilities in Missouri City, Sugar Land, Rosenberg, and Richmond. The drives collected non-perishable food items as well as cleaning supplies that were scheduled to be loaded and shipped to Louisiana on Tuesday.
Among the many forced to seek refuge was Cathy Lowry, a lifelong resident of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and her husband, Billy Lowry.
And just as the famous Cajun Navy stepped up for those affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Fort Bend County residents – or “angels” as Cathy called them – have also found ways to help their Gulf Coast neighbors.
“All these people are from Texas,” Cathy said. “And they said, ‘Well, when we had a bad time, Louisiana came and helped us.’”
Thanks to a friend of Nancy Cartie, the mother-in-law of their son, Dr. William Lowry, an orthopedic surgeon in Lake Charles, the Lowrys found their first set of angels in the form of Sugar Land residents Jami and Ted Arnst.
The primary use of the home next to the Arnsts’ house on Terry Lane is for Jami’s mother, who resides in the Dallas area.
“We were happy to have Cathy and Billy next door,” Jami said. “Nancy and I both attend (Unity of Houston) church, so it’s through our spirit group that we made our connection.”
Cathy, 73 years old, and Billy, 74, are among those at higher risk of being affected not only by hurricane season on the Gulf Coast, but also the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the setbacks she and her family have faced, she considers herself very fortunate to be out of harm’s way during a time when so many people are vulnerable and struggling.
“It just brings me to tears every time I think, ‘Who gets a free house?’” Cathy said. “I mean, we just really feel blessed to have this wonderful gift.”
Another Texas couple that had become close to the Lowrys prior to the storm, Ramona and Justin Payne of Lumberton, also have lent a helping hand. In the aftermath of the hurricane, Justin and two of their sons traveled to Lake Charles and placed tarp over the holes the storm had punched in the roof of the Lowrys’ house.
Ramona is a recently retired nurse, and Justin works at an oil refinery in Beaumont, which is a little south of Lumberton. Their son Brett is a junior pitcher for the McNeese State baseball team, and the Lowrys had become fans of Brett as alumni who sat near the Paynes at many of the Cowboys’ games and even watched him on TV on the road.
The Paynes rode out the storm in Lumberton and are housing several of Brett’s teammates who have been displaced by Hurricane Laura. Justin wakes up at 5 a.m. and makes several trips back and forth to Louisiana to lend a hand in affected areas. Recently, he transported 150 gallons of diesel fuel destined for emergency power generators.
“They kind of befriended us,” Ramona said of the Lowrys. “We got really close to them, and when the storm happened, I knew that they would need help. … Our son’s house (in Louisiana) was damaged, but our primary residence is in Texas, so I called them and said, ‘What can we do?’ They’re pretty devastated by the storm.”
Armed with a truckload of supplies, Justin and Trystin, Brett’s older brother, made the 70-mile trek to the Lowrys’ home to protect it from the elements.
“It was like a flashback to (Hurricane Rita in 2005),” Ramona said. “Our house was demolished by Rita. It looked like a bomb went off in Lake Charles. It’s really sad to see. There’s not a lot of structures that are standing that are habitable.”
Hurricane Laura was designated a Category 4 storm and was so dangerous that Justin was sent home for the first time in his career due to safety precautions because of the inclement weather.
The Lowrys had last fled their home during Hurricane Rita, making their way from Baton Rouge to Houston. Cathy was 10 years old when she experienced her first major storm, Hurricane Audrey in 1957.
A recent drive from Sugar Land to their Lake Charles home to retrieve some belongings took twice the usual duration (two and a half hours) because of the increased flow of traffic from displaced residents and first responders and volunteers descending upon affected areas.
They had been on a waiting list for a much-needed new roof since a hail storm struck them in May. When Laura ripped through their home before dawn Aug. 27, it caused several leaks in the roof, compromising their master bedroom and bathroom and living room as rain and pieces of the ceiling began to trickle down. The Lowrys’ home now awaits the assessment of an insurance adjuster.
As of Saturday morning, more than 98 percent of the 104,926 tracked customers in the Lowrys’ home county of Calcasieu Parish are without power, and they cannot move in with their son in Louisiana until he regains electricity as well.
“It looked like a war zone,” Cathy said. “Telephone poles down all over. Trees, we lost almost all the trees in Lake Charles. It was unbelievable. It’s really sad.
“We’re fortunate, I think our house can be fixed. There’s some that are just totally destroyed.”
This isn’t the first time the Arnsts have lent their house to someone in need of shelter. A nearby neighbor once had a tree fall on their home, rendering it unlivable. While it was repaired, the Arnsts were glad to lend them a roof over their head.
On another occasion, Ted’s co-workers in Meyerland were flooded out of their house, and they in turn made a brief stay on Terry Lane until they were able to return home.
“It’s been kind of a rescue house,” Jami said. “It happens, and we’re just glad we can help those (in need) when it’s that time.”
Cathy said she is deeply grateful for her neighbors from the Lone Star State and their selfless acts of kindness during an especially difficult chapter of their lives.
“I just wanted to thank the people of Texas who helped us,” Cathy said. “It meant the world to us.”