Gov’t tells Hurricane Laura victims, ‘You’re on your own’

By Janet Post
September 14, 2020
Damage at July 26 baseball stadium in Artemisa, Cuba, is inspected by local authorities after tropical storm Laura in August. Mass organizations respond immediately to impact of disasters.
Juventud Rebelde/José Luis GuíaDamage at July 26 baseball stadium in Artemisa, Cuba, is inspected by local authorities after tropical storm Laura in August. Mass organizations respond immediately to impact of disasters.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana and Texas remain without electricity and water, as the havoc caused by Hurricane Laura is turned into a social disaster, with working people being left to fend for themselves.

Residents returning to Lake Charles, Louisiana, should expect to live without water and electricity “probably for weeks,” Mayor Nic Hunter announced.

As of Aug. 27, some 460,000 remain without power in Louisiana. Two hundred and twenty thousand have no running water.

Nineteen people died during the storm. Many of the deaths were a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, emitted by generators used by residents when their electric power failed. At least 8,000 homes were destroyed.

State officials had ordered half a million people in Louisiana and Texas to “evacuate,” without providing transportation or places for them to go to. Those with no means to flee in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, received the following instructions from the sheriff’s office: “Please evacuate and if you choose to stay and we can’t get to you, write your name, address, social security number and next of kin and put it in a ziploc bag in your pocket.”

In sweltering heat, workers in Lake Charles are lining up in a Walmart parking lot for food and supplies from aid organizations. Some workers are living in their cars.

Louisiana Gov. John Edwards said evacuees would be sent to hotels rather than shelters to minimize the spread of coronavirus. However, laid-off cashier Trichee Abraham told NPR she had used up all her savings staying at a hotel but had yet to receive any aid from the state or federal government.

Some area workers are taking time off their jobs to volunteer to help deal with the growing crisis created by the capitalist rulers’ refusal to organize needed relief — including ad hoc groups of workers organized for disaster recovery like the Cajun Navy, Texas Task Force 1, and Team Rubicon.

In so-called natural disasters, the for-profit capitalist system and its government, at all levels, prove incapable of organizing needed preparation and resources to minimize the damage to working people.

Residents living near the BioLab chemical plant in Westlake, Louisiana, were exposed to chlorine gas when a fire at the plant, caused by the storm, unleashed smoke laced with toxins into the atmosphere. Workers at the plant had been evacuated before the fire, but people living near the facility had been told to shelter in place.

Gov. Edwards instructed them to “close your windows and doors and TURN OFF YOUR AIR CONDITIONING UNITS.” Pollution from the plant is nothing new. According to the Environmental Protection Agency company bosses dumped chemicals into the Bayou Verdine, violating environment regulations on 185 occasions last year.

In Cuba no one is left on their own

As Laura tore through the Caribbean, at least 31 people died in Haiti and nine in the Dominican Republic. The storm also hit Cuba, Puerto Rico and Jamaica, but no casualties have been reported. While working people under capitalism are left on their own, the opposite is true in Cuba where workers and farmers made a socialist revolution and hold political power.

To prepare for hurricanes Cuba’s Civil Defense Committees, working with trade unions, mass organizations and the government, minimize harm to life. Everyone knows in advance what shelter they will use or what friend or relative plans to take them in, what route the evacuation will take and which supplies to include in their emergency pack. Government authorities provide food and health care for evacuees. Special measures were taken for Laura because of COVID-19.

The Civil Defense Committees organize preparation drills, detailing what every household and workplace needs to do. Before Laura reached eastern Cuba Aug. 23 they had led the safe evacuation of 334,000 people. 

After the storm 500 brigades of electrical workers were organized, taking a goal of restoring all power supplies as rapidly as possible. By Aug. 26, “98.5% of electricity had been restored,” said Lázaro Guerra Hernández of the National Electrical Union.

Crops, including bananas, cassava and corn, were destroyed during the storm, creating new challenges for the revolutionary government. Increasing food production is important in the face of the worldwide capitalist crisis and the U.S. rulers’ recent steps to tighten their embargo of Cuba.