Family that survived Hurricane Laura later killed by generator fumes

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A family in Louisiana made it through the worst of Hurricane Laura’s winds and storm surge last week, only to perish hours after the storm when a generator leaked carbon monoxide into their home.

The Louisiana Department of Health said Wednesday of the 17 deaths related to the hurricane in the state, seven have been due to carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

“Gas-powered generators produce carbon monoxide, which is odorless and colorless,” the agency warns. “Inhaling carbon monoxide can very quickly lead to full incapacitation or death.”

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Four of those deaths happened in one home in Lake Charles, after Rosalie Lewis, 81, had sheltered with her husband, John, and three other relatives as the Category 4 storm bore down on Southwest Louisiana.

Buildings and homes are damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, near Lake Charles, La.

Buildings and homes are damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, near Lake Charles, La. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Family members told the Daily Advertiser the family was concerned about evacuations because they didn’t want to expose Rosalie and John to coronavirus in a hotel or a shelter.

Buildings show damage after the passage of Hurricane Laura, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Lake Charles, La.

Buildings show damage after the passage of Hurricane Laura, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Lake Charles, La. (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP, Pool)

The home, which had also withstood Hurricane Rita in 2005, suffered little damage from Laura but emergency crews made a grim discovery inside hours after the storm passed.

The 81-year-old, her daughter, Kim Evans, 56; her son-in-law, Chris Evans, 61; and her brother, Clyde Handy, 72, were all found dead after a generator they set up in the garage filled the house with carbon monoxide.

“They made it through the storm and there was a freak accident,” relative Patrick Perry told The Advocate this week. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride.”

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Rosalie Lewis’ husband, John Lewis Sr., 84, survived and was taken to a hospital in critical condition, relatives said. He remained on life support Wednesday, according to granddaughter Caitlin Lewis.

“My grandfather is still in the hospital in critical condition on 100% life support,” Lewis wrote on Facebook. “The hospital is currently telling us that his recovery likelihood is low.”

The family had left the garage door open for ventilation, but winds from the storm likely blew it closed, Rosalie’s son, Lyle Lewis, 55, told The Daily Advertiser.

“We thought it was ventilated enough, because it was a three car garage, but when the other door closed, it just wasn’t enough ventilation,” he told the paper.

Lewis shared on Facebook that her grandmother, Rosalie, was the first female and black postal mail carrier and supervisor in Southwest Louisiana.

“Every time we were together, she got emotional telling me how proud of me she was. She was also the biggest Saints fan,” she wrote.

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John Lewis Sr. drove trucks for 40 years and Kim Lewis Evans and her husband Chris Evans had been married for 30 years and often cared for her parents. The Daily Advertiser reported that Handy was remembered by relatives as a loving uncle and father figure.

A joint funeral service for the family members was set for Sept. 12.

Of the 22 deaths in Texas and Louisiana attributed to the storm, nearly half were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from the unsafe operation of generators, according to authorities. Widespread power outages remain throughout the region, with the main power utility saying it will need to “rebuild” the grid after the storm which could take weeks.

Health officials advise the power generators should never be used indoors, including in a garage, carport, basement, crawl space or other enclosed or partially enclosed area, even those with ventilation.

“Opening windows or doors or using fans will not prevent the build-up of carbon monoxide,” the Louisiana Department of Health states. “If you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air immediately.”

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has also warned the public against misusing generators.

“Most deaths from Laura have been from improper usage of generators,” he said Monday.

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Officials advise placing generators outside, more than 20 feet away from the home and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

Health officials on Wednesday verified two additional storm-related deaths in Louisiana, bringing the state’s total to 17.

A 36-year-old man and a woman in her 80s died of heat-related illness following the storm in Beauregard Parish.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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