Lodric D. Collins remembers growing up in the vibrant, beautiful southern Louisiana town of Lake Charles, known for rich culture and cuisine, its Creole Nature Trail, other Gulf Coast wildlife habitats and its thriving casinos about three hours from New Orleans. But last month, the city of about 78,000 people was struck by Hurricane Laura, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm, devastating the area, leaving 26 people dead and thousands homeless. Now Collins, who stars as Donald Winthrop on BET’s “The Oval,” is issuing a call for help for the residents who, like him, call this place home.
“It’s been three weeks and the city’s still in devastation,” Collins told BET.com. “I come back and forth from L.A. to here as often as I can and do as much as I can. But the first time I came in after the hurricane it was a week after the storm and the power lines were still down. I didn’t even recognize the place I grew up in.”
Collins said as he and others try to help by removing trees from property, cleaning up debris and carrying food and supplies to residents he’s seen roofs torn off houses, furniture exposed to the elements, which causes mold, and in turn causes respiratory issues for many.
In many cases, people who own homes are waiting for insurance adjusters to come in and appraise the damage, but even adjusters have no place to stay and one quit in the midst of all the chaos, leaving residents with little to rely on.
“Now there’s a whole bunch of people who still haven’t gotten their homes taken care of yet,” he said.
For his part, Collins and members of his family have been figuring a way to get as much help as possible for the displaced residents. Although FEMA has been to the area, providing things like tarps and other supplies, they can’t do much for homeowners, he says, who must wait on their insurance companies to respond to them.
Collins said he wants to use the platform he has to spread awareness about Lake Charles’ plight and raise much-needed funds to provide aid. He’s also posted a hashtag on his social media, #LakeCharlesStrong to spread the word.
“I would say over 80 percent of the city was displaced, they were evacuees,” he explained. “Now they are returning and what’s happening is they’re returning to these homes that are destroyed or the roofs are destroyed. Even if there’s minor damage to a roof where water can come in, it can destroy the whole home.” He also said that people are relying on food donations, but must get them before a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew sets in.
Collins posted a video recently on his Instagram page appealing for help and directing potential donors to SWLA Health Center, which eliminates third parties and gets funding directly to people affected by the aftermath of the hurricane.
“There’s so many things going on in the world that it’s easy to forget a place like Lake Charles, La., and the surrounding areas because it’s not a large metropolitan city, like New Orleans,” he said, mentioning power outages are affecting the largely African American north side of town where no medical facilities are located. “So I’m supporting [SWLA] big time. What they’re doing is they’re really positioned, helping that community that’s been overlooked, that African American community that exists in North Lake Charles.”
Despite the devastation, Collins says that he noticed the same resiliency in residents of Lake Charles that he did when he lived in New York around the time of the 9/11 attacks.
“You saw the spirit of the people and how they came together to help,” he said. “And my city is not different, the state of Louisiana is the same.
“My brothers and I were out cutting trees off of houses the other day and this lady and her daughter passed by in a vehicle and they stopped and said, ‘hey would you like something to eat?’ They said they drove from a city about an hour away. And they gave us sandwiches and granola bars and water and just drove down the block, you know, and the city’s the same way, and I think it’s the spirit of Louisiana.”