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After two hurricanes, Lake Charles residents look for respite in Sioux City

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2019 Mardi Gras Festivale costumes

In this July 2019 file photo, costume designer John Chavanne of Lake Charles, La., displays a mask that will be part of a Mardi Gras costume at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City.

Even though the Mardi Gras gala won’t be part of this year’s Fourth of July celebration, two of its key creators will be.

John Chavanne, the costume designer, and Blane Bourgeois, the music coordinator, say they'll be back in Sioux City to enjoy the weekend of music after a long year of unfortunate events.

"We miss our friends in Sioux City," Chavanne said. "We can't wait to get up there and take part in the parade," which will take place July 1.

Traditionally, the parade has been paired with a Mardi Gras gala, featuring residents from Sioux City and Lake Charles in elaborate costumes.

Thanks to two highly destructive hurricanes, building costumes for gala wasn't possible.

In August 2020, Hurricane Laura hit the Gulf of Mexico and devastated Lake Charles. With one-minute sustained wind speeds of 150 mph, the storm cost $19.1 billion in damage and 81 deaths.

Then six weeks later, disaster struck again when Hurricane Delta came in October.

Choosing to ride out a tropical storm at home is dangerous, but Chavanne, a Louisiana native, thought he could beat the odds.

"I did my math," he said. "One mile of land absorbs one foot of storm surge, and there's a good 50 to 60 miles between me and the gulf."

Usually, deciding to evacuate is very difficult, but it was a relatively easy decision for Chavanne, having survived Hurricane Rita in 2005.

"The decision to stay was easier to make once I knew what the numbers were going to look like," he said.

When Delta struck six weeks later, Chavanne's main concern was with the rising waters. By then he was already a veteran of surviving tropical storms. When they both hit, he was prepared and knew exactly what to do.

"It's miserable; prepare yourself for misery," he said.

"But living without electricity wasn't a big deal," he added. "I had a generator, I had gas, we were prepared for that, and we did that for months."

After surviving two tropical storms last year, Chavanne was eager to get out of town and back to Sioux City.

"We're not going to have our costume gala this year," the show's designer said. "But we're going to make a splash in the parade."

The parade also wouldn't be complete without Bourgeois, a Lake Charles businessman. He is the head of Lake Charles' branch of Krewe de Charlie Sioux.

He'll be back, but, because of the hurricanes, he is unsure who else from the Krewe will join him.

"This is kind of a weird year," Bourgeois said.

When Hurricane Laura struck, he evacuated to a friend's house in Baton Rouge, but that wasn't his original plan.

"It was supposed to be a Category Three, and I was planning on staying for that," Bourgeois said. "I evacuated hours before the storm hit when I realized that it was going to be stronger than what they anticipated."

When Delta struck and flooded Lake Charles, Bourgeois said it was like adding salt to the wound. When the damage was done, he said the city was unrecognizable.

"I mean it was totally wiped out," he said. "I did not recognize my city and I still don't recognize my city."

In the aftermath of the hurricanes, Bourgeois was helping out his community, running generators for his neighbors and keeping their appliances running.

His biggest takeaway from last year is the realization what really matters in life: the support of others.

"It's a shame that things like have to happen for you to realize what really matters in life," he said. "It brings the community closer together."


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