First there was Hurricane Laura that devastated Southwest Louisiana like few storm events seen in recent years. The 10th strongest US hurricane by wind speed on record, it caused some $8.1 billion in damage in Southwest Louisiana alone – especially in the communities of Lake Charles, Moss Bluff and Sulphur. Then it was followed closely by Hurricane Sally.
Welcome to life on the Louisiana Gulf Coast during hurricane season, as Brandon Tate, the area vice president USAgencies Insurance, a division of Freeway Insurance, knows all too well.
“We heard the stories of people in the area that were affected, whose homes were destroyed,” he said. “Stories of faith and their ability to persevere.”
As often happens in the aftermath of major events like these, communities pull together. One place this enduring spirit has been on clear display has been in Lake Charles at USAgencies’ office on Ryan Street.
After Laura swept through, USAgencies’ team removed the boards from their storefront and began supporting the community using generator power, even while four of the company’s employees remain displaced due to storm damage: Sean Gray, Jennifer Jackson, Tilda Petre and Whitney Moore.
“We went to the power company and they said it would be weeks from having power, so we loaded up portable generators and portable air conditioners, gathered other volunteers from other communities, and started helping people,” said Tate. “We went out on Monday, and started unboarding the buildings that were boarded up and started getting things back.”
It’s been a labor of love, as Tate is commuting three hours each way every day from Baton Rouge – and was even struck by a tractor trailer one day en route. Yet, he and his team continue to focus on supporting their neighbors including a significant number of low-income, non-English speaking members of the community. It has become, to a degree, a community meeting place for not only USAgencies’ customers, but area residents needing support, comfort and more.
“We are open to customers and the community for anyone that wants to sit, have a cup of coffee, talk and recover,” Tate noted. “It’s going to be a long road to get back to normal. One of our employee’s homes is completely destroyed, the other three have also been granted extensions for their displacement stay with FEMA. But I made a decision to continue paying these employees to keep them afloat during this time. We take care of our family, and this situation has really brought the community together because it doesn’t matter who, what you are, where you’re from, we are together now.”
Helping others, being engrained in local communities. This is Freeway, from the southwest corner of Louisiana to a corner near you.
We thank our team – our community heroes – for making Freeway what it is today and will be into the future.