Pelicans guard Josh Gray continues efforts to help rebuild hometown of Lake Charles

Pelicans guard Josh Gray continues efforts to help rebuild hometown of Lake Charles

by Jim Eichenhofer

When Josh Gray tells you that “the whole city” of Lake Charles, La., consists of homes covered by blue tarps, you immediately think it’s hyperbole, an innocent exaggeration meant to accentuate how dire the post-hurricane situation is in his hometown right now. But then you take a drive with the New Orleans Pelicans guard around Lake Charles.

As Gray navigates what are extremely familiar streets to him – he was born and raised in Lake Charles, now owns a home there – you immediately realize that the 27-year-old is not embellishing anything. Six weeks after Hurricane Laura made landfall as a Category-4 storm, there are entire neighborhoods in which no roof was spared from significant damage. As Gray’s car wheels past home after home, you actually begin to become more surprised to see a ceiling intact than to see the omnipresent blue tarps, installed to protect houses from rain and the elements. It’s astonishing to witness what wind gusts measured between 100 to 135 mph can do to the structure of a home.

Every so often, you’ll hear the sounds of hammering and look up to see a group of workers standing on top of a home, in the initial stages of trying to replace its roof. After comprehending the scope of the damage, it’s difficult to fathom how long the process will take to rebuild all of the properties, eventually allowing the people of Lake Charles (population 78,000) to return to a semblance of normalcy.

Debris from the aftermath of Hurricane Sally in Lake Charles, LA

As Gray slowly turns his vehicle onto a street that was dotted by bustling businesses prior to Aug. 27, he points to his right at a lot that has been torn asunder. It’s now home to tangled piles of wood, stone and other debris, making it virtually impossible to determine exactly what previously stood on the property. With one notable exception: There’s a familiar-looking red, white and blue cylinder-like object that peeks out from what appears to have been the front door. It’s the only remaining distinguishable element of what kind of business took place on this parcel of land.

“That was my barber shop,” Gray says, nodding grimly.

Gray, who is also an LSU product (he was a part-time starter for the Tigers from 2014-16), spent an afternoon last week driving through Lake Charles, demonstrating the wide-scale destruction. On Oct. 1, he hosted a lunchtime meal giveaway that was free to the public; scores of cars pulled up to get something to eat, including families with children whose schools were forced to close due to damage. The lunch was held in a parking lot, directly across from a shopping plaza in which National Guard troops are stationed to help with recovery efforts, supplying water and food.

Fallen tree from the aftermath of Hurricane Sally in Lake Charles, LA

Twenty-plus people died in Louisiana and Texas due to Hurricane Laura, including five from fallen trees. As you ride through Lake Charles neighborhoods, it’s impossible not to notice countless large trees that have been completely uprooted from the ground, evidence of how dangerous winds of 100-plus mph can be to anything in their path.

In addition to personally hosting food giveaways, Gray launched a GoFundMe page < > that has raised over $11,000 of its $75,000 goal. Gray notes on the page that he started it in order to “bring awareness and raise money to help out many families.” The first part of that statement is notable because after an initial late-August surge in national media coverage, the dire situation in Lake Charles has mostly disappeared from conversation, despite Hurricane Laura being reported as one of the most damaging storms in the history of Louisiana.

“It’s hard to believe how quickly the attention went away,” Gray said.

To donate to Gray’s GoFundMe page, click here.

People can also help Southwest Louisiana communities by donating a wide range of items, including water, dry food, generators, hygiene supplies, diapers, fans and clothes, among other products.

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