Months after storm devastated Shreveport, Louisiana, planting the seeds of change: Reporter's Notebook

A derecho tore through the city in June 2023.

April 28, 2024, 6:02 AM

Louisiana is a state often defined by its history with hurricanes. These powerful storms are named, in part, so we never forget the bad ones: Katrina, Rita, Laura, Betsy, Audrey… to list a mere few of the named hurricanes that have left a destructive mark on the Pelican State.

The mention of any of these names will bring an emotional reaction to anybody that has lived through one. And just about everybody that has lived in Louisiana for more than a decade has experienced the wrath and aftermath of a hurricane.

Early in my career, I worked in Lake Charles, in the southwest corner of the state. When I first moved there from New York, I was a little nervous about what locals would say or do when I told them I was a northerner.

Once a kind Cajun man asked me where I was from, to which I responded, “oh I’m a Yankee.” As he gave me the side-eye he asked somewhat seriously, “you from Shreveport??” We both chuckled when I admitted to having just moved from New York City. The point is, there is a huge difference between northern and southern Louisiana. The locals know it, and often the weather knows it too.

Towns along I-10 and the coast of Louisiana fear hurricanes the most, while those who live along I-20 in the northern part of the state tend to be more wary of tornadoes. The storm that blasted through Shreveport on June 16, 2023 was neither. It didn’t have a memorable hurricane name or a ranking on the EF scale for tornadoes, but it did have straight-line winds estimated as high as 104 mph. The meteorological professionals call it a derecho, but many residents here refer to it as "The Storm with No Name."

Nearly a year after those destructive winds, Shreveport and many of the surrounding communities are still recovering from the nameless storm. I met Mike Smith, a resident who still hasn’t moved back into his home. Mike’s house was crushed by a massive tree. By luck, he and his wife happened to be in other parts of the home when the tree sliced through their kitchen. They are grateful to be alive. As for the house, the repair work is nearing completion to where the couple plans to finally move back in May.

That toppled tree symbolizes the reason we visited northwest Louisiana recently. The Arbor Day Foundation and other community organizations were giving away hundreds of trees to help replace the thousands that were felled by those insidious winds last June. Trees that help provide vital shade, prevent flooding and absorb carbon dioxide. The shade certainly would have helped in the days following the storm when heat index temperatures soared to over 100 degrees. That is very dangerous heat, considering thousands were without electricity and air conditioning in the storms wake. At least 3 heat related fatalities occurred in the 10 sweltering days after the storm.

We arrive at the decommissioned Sears store parking lot around 8 a.m., an hour before 250 trees were set to be given away to anyone that needed one. Native mayhaw trees, pear, fig and other fruit trees were lined up, as were dozens of residents eager for the handout when the clock struck 9 a.m. While in line they shared their storms stories of that windy night, soon followed by happy faces walking away with 5-gallon potted trees ready for planting.

That afternoon, a truck arrived at a city park across town filled with more trees. Volunteers, including elementary school students were there, joyfully getting their hands in the dirt. Planting two trees for every one that came down in that park during the storm.

Teachers were guiding them in a very hands-on lesson on how trees are good. Lauren Jones, with community organization Shreveport Green said it to me best, “if we can create a connection between humans and nature, we can actually drive a change within our communities. Trees are the answer. They’re going to help up breathe better. They’re going to help us live better lives.”

As we celebrate Earth Week and Arbor Day, you could certainly say that trees… provide the Power of Us.

Rob Marciano is a meteorologist and weekend weather anchor at ABC News.

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