Lake Charles is a prime example of climate displacement. According to UNESCO, climate displacement is forced migration (within a person’s home country or internationally) spurred by the impacts of climate change — natural disasters, extreme drought, food shortages or rising sea levels.
Worldwide, climate is the leading cause of displacement. In 2020, 55 million people were forced to migrate due to extreme weather events. That’s three times more people than were displaced by conflict and violence.
Photo: Firefighters try to contain a wildfire on the Greek island of Evia (CNS photo/Stelios Misinas, Reuters).
Intensifying weather patterns are associated with climate change, according to scientists with the Lancet Countdown. In the Atlantic, warmer waters and rising sea levels are causing stronger and wetter storms. NOAA named a staggering 30 storms during the U.S. Atlantic hurricane season. Ultimately, eleven storms made landfall, breaking the previous record of nine.
For Lake Charles, the barrage began in August. Hurricane Laura scourged Lake Charles with 150-mile-per-hour winds and catastrophic flooding. It was closely followed by hurricanes Delta and Zeta. Then, in February, Winter Storm Uri blanketed the city in ice, causing burst pipes and rolling blackouts. A few months later, a 1,000-year rainstorm dumped 15 inches on Lake Charles in one hour.
Photo: Signs and debris are seen outside a home in Lake Charles, La., ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Delta Oct. 8, 2020. (CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters)
Nowhere to go
Quigley and fellow Loyola law professor Davida Finger represented hundreds of Lake Charles renters who were evacuated during the hurricanes. To fix the damages in the apartment complexes, landlords (mostly corporate) evicted their tenants.
“They gave the people very short notice to come back, empty their apartments, cancel their leases,” says Quigley. “Or they would go ahead and just dump all their stuff out.”
Most of the tenants had nowhere to go — let alone a place to store their belongings.
Photo: Aerial footage of Lake Charles after Hurricane Laura, Aug. 30, 2020. (CNS photo/Drone Base, Reuters)
Renters have very few protections under Louisiana state law. While the federal government offers temporary housing vouchers to public housing tenants, private renters have no such guarantees. In most situations, such protections — including disaster relief funds — are funneled only to landlords.
“Renters are on their own,” Quigley explains. “The joke is, how many renters do you think have seats in the House of Representatives in your state? Versus how many landlords?”
Ultimately, Quigley and his team stopped the evictions in Lake Charles, guaranteeing tenants time to find new housing.
Photo: A man with his bike through a damaged gas station left in the wake of Hurricane Laura as Hurricane Delta approaches in Lake Charles, La., Oct. 9, 2020. (CNS photo/Jonathan Bachman, Reuters)