Hurricane Laura caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to Louisiana schools, officials say

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Hurricane Laura caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage to the schools in its path, officials said Wednesday.

Karl Bruchhaus, superintendent of the Calcasieu Parish school system, estimates rebuilding could cost more than $300 million.

“This was [the equivalent of] a 40-mile-wide tornado that hit Calcasieu Parish,” he said, speaking at a meeting of the state Senate’s education committee.

Charley Lemons, who is the education superintendent in Cameron Parish, said the system would need $250 million “to be whole.”

“We’re still waiting on reimbursements from [Hurricane] Rita,” which struck in 2005, Lemons said.

State Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said 13 campus sites suffered damage from Hurricane Laura. At McNeese State University in hard-hit Lake Charles, 50 campus buildings lost their roofs and repairs could cost $200 million, school president Daryl Burckel said, noting that construction costs often rise following a disaster.

SOWELA Technical Community College suffered between $75 million and $100 million worth of damage, chancellor Neil Aspinwall said.

Sen. Ronnie Johns, who is an insurance agent by trade, said Hurricane Rita was about a $4 billion event for the industry. For Laura, the initial estimate is $12 billion, he said.

As for the taxpayer costs, the federal government currently is committed to picking up 75 percent. State officials expect to easily exceed the $662 million threshold required to move to a 90/10 split.

State officials are asking the federal government to cover the full cost, which happened after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said Lynne Browning with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. She said that decision is up to the president’s discretion.