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AP finds hurricane-battered Louisiana residents struggling, enduring months later

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Ever since Hurricane Laura hit southwest Louisiana on August 27, Deep South correspondent Rebecca Santana and New Orleans photographer Gerald Herbert wanted to follow up with residents. But in a busy hurricane season it wasn’t until December that plans finally came together.

To find subjects,Santana researched for weeks,reaching out to people she’d interviewed on previous stories and monitoring a hurricane survivor Facebook group to find residents and learn about their concerns. She also talked with government and non-governmental officials to get a picture of how recovery efforts were going. She and Herbert then went out to the Lake Charles area for a two-day trip where they met in person with some of the families Santana had reached out to, saw the devastation for themselves and went door to door in various neighborhoods to talk to people.

Santana’s planning also tipped them off to a couple whose ill-timed wedding was finally happening, and volunteers put them in touch with two families who were living in tents because their houses were destroyed. Herbert ended up going back to Lake Charles eight different times to meet with the families, even giving up his Christmas holiday to spend Christmas Eve sleeping on an air mattress in a gutted house so he could spend Christmas morning with one family before flying back to New Orleans to cover a Saints game. He also shot video for all the stories.

The result was two print stories, three video packages and a photo essay. The Lake Charles newspaper and the Sun Herald of Mississippi both ran stories on their front pages. The wedding story ran on the front of the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s metro section and swas picked up by 174 other news outlets. A reader reached out to see how they could help and a Houston man delivered supplies. Santana was interviewed for radio and Herbert’s videos were used on websites including ABC News,USA Today and Fox News.

For uncovering the compelling stories of hurricane victims months after the storms had faded from the headlines, Santana and Herbert earn AP’s Best of the States award for the week of Dec. 21.

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