Lake Charles Toyota dealership offers shelter after Hurricane Laura hits Louisiana

While people were assigned to sleep in separate offices by family unit for privacy reasons, safety measures to protect against the coronavirus took a back seat to the present challenge of the hurricane.

“On the order of magnitude the hurricane presented, COVID was kind of an afterthought in everyone’s memory,” Corey Tarver said.

Many of the people living at the dealership had running water at home but were unable to return without power because of the “unbearable heat,” Corey Tarver said. Temperatures in the region in the recent weeks have hit the upper 90s, with humidity levels reaching more than 90 percent.

Don Bradley, the dealership’s building maintenance administrator, has been living at the dealership since the night of the hurricane, which tore shingles off his house, ripped out a fence, uprooted trees and damaged his shop.

“Originally I was going to stay in my home, but I’m glad I went to the dealership,” said Bradley, who has spent his days cleaning up debris and assessing damage sustained at Lake Charles Toyota. The storm destroyed the service department canopy and damaged two exterior walls of the dealership.

Justin Hill, head baseball coach at McNeese State University in Lake Charles and a longtime family friend of the Tarvers, stayed at the dealership with his son. He called it home — a place to eat, shower, rest and recharge as the community rebuilds.

“I’m thankful for Mr. Phillip to be able to offer that resource,” said Hill, who was able to move home Sept. 11. “It’s more than you could ask for right now.”

Phillip Tarver said his main priority in the aftermath of the storm was supporting his 150 employees and their families.

The dealership’s “refugee family,” as Corey Tarver described the group living at the store, has been shrinking as people’s homes regain power.

As of late last week, three people, including Bradley, were still staying at Lake Charles Toyota but had relocated to the RVs.

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