S2 E4: Peace of Mind

Danielle and Alfred Guillory at their home in Lake Charles

S2 E4: Peace of Mind

After severe storms struck Lake Charles, many homeowners expected to rebuild quickly. They had been paying home insurance premiums for years for just this moment. It had given them peace of mind. 

But many people found that their insurance didn’t cover damage the way they thought it would. People like Danielle and Al Guillory, who received an initial insurance payment that was tens of thousands less than the cost of repairs. In this episode, we learn how the insurance industry has started playing hardball after weather disasters — and what that might mean for communities across the country in the age of climate change.


Lauren Rosenthal: Hi.

One day, in the spring of 2021, I went to see Danielle and Al Guillory at home. 

Lauren Rosenthal: I'm good. How are you doing? 

They live in a middle-class neighborhood in Lake Charles, near parks and schools. A lot of the houses on their block look alike — one story, brick facade.

Danielle Guillory: I was like, maybe I should have told them it's the only one with the pod and the camper in the front yard. 

Lauren Rosenthal: The only one with a pod and camper?

Danielle Guillory: It’s pretty easy to recognize in our neighborhood.

The Guillories’ house was a construction zone. The place had been unlivable for months — since the hurricanes hit Lake Charles. 

Danielle Guillory: And of course, everything we own is in there. 

A storage pod held most of their belongings. 

(Music in)

The Guillories needed somewhere to live. And with nothing available locally, they bought a camper, about the size of a box truck. It was the kind of thing you tow behind your car to go glamping for a weekend. But there it was, parked on the lawn.

Danielle Guillory: So y’all can come in.

Lauren Rosenthal: Home. Sweet home. 

Daneille Guillory: Yes. Home sweet tiny home. 

The ceilings were low in that camper, and the interior was dark. Finished with pleather and fake wood. 

Lauren Rosenthal: So it's like — it looks almost like on a cruise ship or something. Like the bunks? I don't know. It reminds me of like, being on a boat a little bit. 

Danielle Guillory: You have little tiny bunks. And so my daughter sleeps on the top. 

Danielle pulled back a thin set of drapes that wrapped around the bottom bunk. 

Danielle Guillory: My longer son sleeps at the bottom. Christian. 

Her and Al’s 15-year-old son Christian peeked out from behind the fabric.

Danielle Guillory: Yeah. That’s my middle child. 

I felt something brush my ankle. I looked down to find an elderly pug sniffing at my shoes.

Danielle Guillory: This is Bella. 

Lauren Rosenthal: Hi, Bella. *snuffling* 

Two kids, two adults, and the family dog had been crammed into this camper for months. 

(Music in)

Danielle and Al never thought they’d have to live like this for so long — never thought their house would still be unlivable — because the Guillories had been paying into a homeowner’s insurance policy for years. For just this reason. 

Danielle Guillory: You pay them every month and you’re like, ‘In case something happens. I've got this insurance and I'll be taken care of and they're just going to give me what I need.’ And it wasn't that way at all. 

(Music In)

This is In Deep, a podcast from American Public Media. I’m Lauren Rosenthal. 

Private insurance is maybe the only alternative to waiting on government aid to rebuild a place like Lake Charles. After the hurricanes, thousands of people filed claims, including the Guillories. But instead of receiving the money they needed to fix their home, a lot of people found their damage wasn’t covered the way they thought it would be. 

It turned into a fight, with insurance companies denying claims and playing hardball to avoid payouts in a way we haven’t seen before. 

This is episode 4. Peace of Mind.

(Music out)

I sat down with Danielle and Al one afternoon, on their front porch outside their unlivable house, to talk about what happened with their insurance.

As we settled in and tested the mics, they told me about their favorite fishing spot near Lake Charles. And tried to convince me to make the trip while I was still in town.

Danielle Guillory: No, you don't have to get out of your car, you can drive through — 

Al Guillory: Yeah, it’s actually got a drive through for people to do —

Danielle Guillory: It’s a refuge, it’s got a road. It’s a gravel road — 

Al Guillory: Birds, sightseeing and stuff —

Danielle Guillory: Yeah. You'll see some really cool stuff. 

Danielle and Al talk over each other like this all the time. They’ve been together more than 20 years. They’re both in their mid-40s. 

Lake Charles has always been home. 

(Music in)

Danielle, who’s a nurse, and Al, who works for a phone company, consider themselves solidly working class.

Danielle Guillory: I can tell you, a majority of this town is working people. You know, we do have our people that have money, you know. That's anywhere, but the majority of us are everyday working-class people. 

Danielle and Al bought this house when the kids were still pretty little. It took a beating from Hurricane Laura, the first hurricane in this string of storms that hit Lake Charles.

Daneille Guillory: I know the carport’s gone. I know we need a roof. I know — you know, there were some things I could see needed to be handled. 

Danielle said she got their insurance company on the phone as soon as that first hurricane hit. 

Danielle Guillory: Immediately the night of the storm, I was like, I'm calling [beep], I'm getting my claim going. Oops, I shouldn't say the name. 

(Music out)

This is a huge, national corporation. The Guillories asked me not to use the name.

Danielle Guillory: I'm calling my insurance company. I'm getting my claim going. And it was just a series of things that you have to do. 

One of those things was setting up an inspection with an insurance claims adjuster. These workers get sent to review the damage firsthand and pull together some estimates for the damage — and for what the insurance company is willing to pay to help you fix it.

Danielle and Al’s company sent an adjuster within days of the first hurricane. Along with much of Lake Charles, they still didn’t have electricity.

Danielle Guillory: The first guy that came? There was no power when he came, number one. He had no flashlight, number two.

Al Guillory: I offered to crank up the generator so he could see. 

Lauren Rosenthal: You had to turn on the generator for him?

Al Guillory:  Yeah, I offered to, but he was like, ‘no, don't worry about it.’ 

Danielle Guillory: So he just literally, like, shined a flashlight — our flashlight — on the spots on the ceiling that he saw water. And I mean, literally his first estimate was like, ‘oh, it’ll only cost you like $12,000 to repair your house.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know how, dude.’

(Music in)

That was enough to buy a new roof and fix some cosmetic damage, but not much else. To Danielle and Al, that didn’t seem like enough. They brought in a contractor they trusted to get a second opinion. That guy found structural issues. Parts of the house would have to be gutted.

Al Guillory: And the contractor said it was going to cost $46,000 to fix it. And I mean, I'm not going to start working with that big of a gap.

Danielle and Al needed almost four times as much money as what the insurance company had quoted them. Based on their policy, it should have been almost completely covered.

Lauren Rosenthal: So then what do you do? 

Al Guillory: Argue with them. 

Danielle Guillory: You do what you can.

He said, argue. She said, you fix what you can. 

The Guillories were just one family. But we talked with lots of people in Southwest Louisiana who said similar things. 

Eli Reynolds: We faithfully pay premiums, but then when it comes down to it they want to come in and pick what they want to pay.

Kelli Hilliard Maddox: The insurance company is nitpicking.

Erin Davison: They’re just raked over the coals because their carrier is not doing what they’re supposed to do.

Glen Grant: The insurance didn’t give me enough. 

Kelli Hilliard Maddox: On the phone eight hours a day.

Erin Davison: She’s gone through ten insurance adjusters. She’s on her tenth one right now.

Kelli Hilliard Maddox: We have emails, like, I don’t even know how many. Two hundred emails. 

Eli Reynolds: You feel violated, put it like that.

(Music out)

Their insurance companies were only willing to pay a fraction of what it would actually cost to fix these homes. And no one knew why.

It got so bad that a couple weeks after the second hurricane hit — damaging homes even more — state lawmakers called a special hearing in person in Baton Rouge. The state’s insurance regulators got called in to testify. A deputy regulator named Jeff Zewe said there wasn’t much they could do.

Jeff Zewe, Louisiana Dept. of Insurance: We don't have a lot of room if the insurer says that estimate’s unreasonable. We're not going to be able to order them to pay the higher amount, but we're certainly going to make sure that they've seen it.

And that’s about it. Unless they could prove it was part of a pattern, with claims being lowballed systematically, the regulators couldn’t do anything to stop it.

But as this hearing wore on, it became clear that there was something more going on here — more than just insurance companies refusing to pay or disagreeing with people about the cost of repairs.

This guy — Jeff Albright — got up to testify on behalf of a trade association for insurance agents. He said in the wake of these hurricanes, customers were getting a brutal wakeup call about exactly what they’d agreed to in their insurance policies.

Jeff Albright: You know, let's all admit it. Nobody — insurance is not fun. Nobody wants to sit down and read a policy and study it and understand it. Policyholders do not understand their coverages at all. They don't understand the hurricane deductibles. As agents, it’s the single hardest part of our job. We can explain it, we can’t make them understand it.

There’s something Jeff Albright mentioned in there that’s important. Hurricane deductibles. 

(Music in)

If you’ve never heard of something like that before, you definitely are not alone. There were people in Lake Charles who didn’t know. And yet, there it was — written right into the coverage they’d been paying for. 

Danielle Guillory: It was like a little fine print in your policy renewal and very few people knew about it. 

I talked to Danielle Guillory over the phone one night, while she was sitting in her camper with her family. 

She said people in Lake Charles were slowly piecing it together. They realized the hurricane deductible was a loophole that had been introduced into many of their policies and overrode their existing deductibles. It meant homeowners would have to throw in a lot more of their own money before they ever saw a dime from insurance. 

For the Guillories, this added another $5,000 to their deductible. They were lucky.

Danielle Guillory: I have neighbors that were $10,000, $12,000. I know people that were $25,000 and $30,000. And when you start looking at numbers like that —

You’re getting close to the entire repair bill. And the insurance company gets away with paying little to nothing toward it.

(Music out)

Danielle Guillory outside the family camper in July 2021.
Danielle Guillory outside the family camper in July 2021.
Jamie Hobbs for American Public Media

All over Lake Charles, families were starting repairs on their homes, knowing they’d have to pay a significant chunk out of pocket. At some point, once they hit their deductibles, insurance was supposed to kick in.

The Guillories were responsible for about $6,000 worth of repairs. They’d have to pay that much out of pocket no matter what. So the Guillories decided to start repairs, going for the most urgent stuff first.

Danielle Guillory: And we just — we did our roof. We got them to close the side of the house because that's where the damage can come from. You know, we didn't want any more water getting in here after [Hurricane] Delta. We put the braces and little joists, whatever they had to do in the attic, because that was important too. Just got a new roof, we want to support it. We don't want it to fall in. 

Danielle and Al spent enough money to hit their deductible. Even after all that work, the house was still a mess. It had mold in the walls and needed new floors and appliances. 

Finally, a check came from the insurance company. It was for $8,000. Add it all up — the check, their deductible — and that amount is about what the adjuster had said it would cost to fix their house. It wasn’t enough. The Guillories weren’t sure when or if the insurance company planned to give them more.

Danielle Guillory: We sat down and we talked about it and I was like, ‘OK, so what if we do take money out of retirement or, you know, take a loan and we find out [BLEEP] is going to give us $32,000, but we spent fifty four or fifty or forty five. 

If that happened, the Guillories would have to eat the difference. They looked around at their friends and neighbors in Lake Charles.

People were fighting with insurers over basic expenses. It wasn’t clear exactly what the insurance companies did plan to cover. Instead of waiting around to receive their claim money in full, some families decided to just fix up their homes on their own and hope that eventually, the insurance company would reimburse them. Normally, that would be fine. But to Danielle and Al, nothing about this felt normal.

Al Guillory: Lot of people, if you talk to other people, they just pay for it out of their savings or whatever else. And now they are fighting with the insurance to get the rest of their money. 

So Danielle and Al chose differently. They stopped the work on their house and they agreed they would fight the insurance company until they got the rest of the money their policy said they were owed. Then, the work could start back up again.

(Music in)

It was Danielle who did most of the fighting, sitting at the tiny dining table in her and Al’s camper. She made call, after call, after call to that insurance company. When I checked in with her about it early on, it wasn’t going great.

Danielle Guillory: ‘Oh, well, we're going to do this for you,’ and then they call you the next week. ‘Oh, I have to wait because I have to push it up the chain for them to approve it. So I'm still waiting on them to approve it.’ And I'm like, who is them? Who do I need to talk to? Because I want to talk to this person directly, so I can tell them that all I want is for my property to be repaired. 

Months went by, and the insurance company still refused to pay. Danielle and Al were stuck in their camper during the ice storm that froze Lake Charles. 

Danielle, who’s a pretty stubborn person anyways, only dug in harder. Over time, her tone changed until she was no longer asking the insurance company to help her. Now, she was demanding it.

Danielle Guillory: I am a — hound you, I will call, I will stalk you, I will email. I will do whatever I have to do. But you're going to do what I need you to do.

(Music out)

Something I heard over and over in Lake Charles was that things didn’t used to be like this. You didn’t have to fight to get the money you were owed. But I didn’t understand why, until I called Dave Charles. 

Dave Charles: I see that and all of my peers and compatriots from my era. We all, we talk about this a lot. It's just changed.

Dave Charles was a professional insurance adjuster for more than 35 years. He’s based in Florida. And he got introduced to disaster recovery while he was still in college. It was 1977. 

Dave Charles: Well, my hometown was hit with a flood. And I came back to see what was going on, and this group of people from all over the country — not just adjusters, but more FEMA — they handled all the disaster relief stuff. And I got a summer job and kind of fell in love with it.

He started out working for government relief programs, but then switched to working for insurance companies. They sent him all over the country as a claims adjuster, inspecting damage in the wake of major catastrophes.

Dave Charles: Any storm you've heard of, probably. Everything from Andrew, Katrina, Ike, Northridge quake.

Dave Charles’ job was to make sure people who had insurance policies got the money they were owed for the damage to their property. 

(Music in)

Many insurance adjusters used to travel with company-issued checkbooks. They could hand over payments to homeowners on the spot. 

Dave Charles: The only time I ever got yelled at early in my career was that I didn't give a guy enough money. And that's not going to happen these days.

After Hurricane Katrina, he says the job began to change dramatically. The losses from that storm were catastrophic. Insurers seemed to be trying anything they could to get out of paying people — to the point that some companies were later found guilty of fraud. But some of the stuff they tried was perfectly legal, and those tactics started to catch on.

Dave Charles: It kind of became pervasive around the time of Hurricane Katrina. They were stopping us from paying for things that we used to pay for. And I just couldn't do it. 

So he quit. And he’s now a paid consultant who sometimes testifies in lawsuits against insurance companies. 

(Music out)

Katrina was a turning point. Other experts agree — major insurers started to phase in tougher practices that would limit their financial losses in the wake of big disasters. And those practices are still used today. 

Dave Charles says you can boil it down to three basic moves, all meant to discourage people, so customers walk away before the insurance company has to pay them out in full.

(Music in)

Step one is really simple.

Dave Charles: The first wave, you just delay.  

Make people wait to hear back about their claims. Take longer to answer their questions or send payments. Just slow things down. 

Dave Charles: Some people just drop out with the delay. 

So it’s on to step two — rejection.

Dave Charles: The people who stayed in through a delay, then they get partial denials or full denials. And that causes people to drop out because they don't think they can fight an insurance company, and they're also afraid that their policies will be canceled. 

Some people still won’t give up. And that is where the third and final step comes in. Let their customers take them to court.

Dave Charles, and other experts I talked to, said the same thing. These companies have done the math. And a handful of expensive lawsuits is still cheaper than paying out millions of claims. 

(Music out)

I wanted to hear what insurance companies had to say about all this. We reached out to Danielle Guillory’s insurer, but they wouldn’t make someone available for an interview about the way they handle claims. 

We did get to speak with Mark Friedlander. He’s with a major, industry-wide trade group called the Insurance Information Institute. When I asked him about the use of tactics like delaying and denying insurance claims, he said I was misinformed. 

Mark Friedlander: Insurers deliver on their promise. They are helping their customers recover from catastrophes. And there is no effort by the insurance industry to stonewall paying claims or [not] helping their customers who have paid their premium to be protected. 

He acknowledged that individual policyholders might be having problems with their insurance companies. But overall, he said, the industry didn’t need to play games with their customers like the ones I described to him.

They have plenty of money. Insurers set a new record this year for how much they had at their disposal to pay out claims. 

Mark Friedlander: The insurance industry has nearly $1,000,000,000,000 in surplus. 

(Music in)

Mark Friedlander: In business terms, that means capital. They have $1,000,000,000,000 of claims-paying ability for all types of catastrophes across the U.S.

Most customers don’t have to worry whether their insurer has enough money to pay them out, he said, especially if it’s a large corporation. The money is there.

We’ll be right back. 

(Music out)

Mark Friedlander, with the Insurance Information Institute, told me I shouldn’t draw conclusions based on disputes between insurance companies and individual customers.

There are always going to be issues, he said, but they’re relatively rare. Not part of a pattern.

Lauren Rosenthal: This house has been totally fixed. It looks perfect. Looks like new siding, new roof. 

I went for a drive one day, almost a year after the hurricanes. And I passed through this neighborhood that looked like it was almost 100 percent recovered.

Lauren Rosenthal: Those are beautiful brick apartment buildings. A gorgeous museum that is being renovated, but still. 

Seriously. No traces of damage, no sign there was ever a hurricane at all, let alone two of them back to back.

It was really weird. Because if I drove just a few minutes north, to the next neighborhoods over — 

Lauren Rosenthal: Pretty stark difference from where we just were, literally on the other side of the tracks, as we get deeper into North Lake Charles.

The neighborhoods in North Lake Charles are predominantly Black. The area’s now pretty evenly split between families who own and rent their homes.

Lauren Rosenthal: Immediately, we are seeing homes that still need roofing work and haven't gotten it. And a lot of doors and windows that are boarded up, so I'm not sure how many of these homes are being lived in right now. Here's a big pile of fencing and debris and wood and paneling. Looks like they're trying to fix that house. That one is just completely missing a roof. It's gone. 

(Music in)

What I was seeing — this drastic difference in how neighborhoods were recovering, almost a year after the hurricanes — this is the product of how our systems really work. It’s the combined effect of FEMA giving more assistance to communities that have the resources to fight for it. And insurance companies playing hardball, just waiting for people to give up.

We know based on research that FEMA’s practices favor whiter and wealthier communities. But when we analyzed insurance data from after the hurricanes that hit Lake Charles, we found poorer neighborhoods, neighborhoods with more Black families — had to wait longer to receive the money their insurers had reported to the state as money these customers were owed.

Payouts happened faster for predominantly white, upper-middle class parts of the city. 

If you didn’t have the time — the resources — to try and work these systems, and win them over to your side? You’d lose out. It turned out, not everyone could afford the cost of getting help. 

(Music out)

One afternoon, Danielle and Al needed a break from their camper. So they packed up the kids and drove across town to Danielle’s mom’s house. 

A huge brown dog greeted us at the door.

Christian Guillory: Go down, Bruce.

Al sat down in front of the TV and put on a reality show about fishing. The kids ran off to raid the pantry. 

Cynthia Guillory: Is somebody shaking my cereal box? 

Emily Guillory: Where's your cereal box to shake? 

Cynthia Guillory: Well, what are you doing in there?

Emily Guillory: Eating Funyuns. 

Cynthia Guillory: Oh, okay. Grandma’s has snack food. 

Grandma’s actual name is Cynthia. She’s a retired nurse. Her short hair, her glasses, all reminded me so much of Danielle. 

As they settled in next to each other on the couch, I asked them to tell me about the place where they’re both from — where Cynthia grew up and where she raised Danielle. North Lake Charles. 

Cynthia Guillory: A lot of the homes in North Lake Charles where I grew up were family homes, which meant that I lived in a house where I grew up, my children live in the house, and as we die, we pass on the house.

But that was changing since the hurricanes. Most residents of North Lake Charles were Black, and the neighborhood was now lower income. A lot of families were having trouble with their insurance or had no insurance at all. Cynthia said it was hard to watch.

Cynthia Guillory: They have no way to fix those homes. And you have these companies that come by different names and stuff, but the one out here is We Buy Ugly Homes. 

I knew exactly what she was talking about. These companies had put up signs all over town, and I’d heard about people receiving unsolicited calls and offers. 

Cynthia Guillory: And they'll come and say, ‘hey, you don't have to fix that. We'll give you $8,000 sight unseen, just like that. And they'll take it and they’re literally giving their land away. 

For much less than what it’s really worth. Passing down a home and property is one of the main ways that working-class families can climb the economic ladder. It’s how you create wealth over time. 

For a lot of families in Lake Charles, it was getting wiped out. 

Danielle Guillory: So what happens if we continuously are in this track? 

As time wore on, and storms just kept coming, Danielle worried that insurance companies would just keep squeezing working class families like hers. They’d charge more for coverage and pay less for damages. 

Danielle Guillory: That could potentially price some people right out of here, especially if you are already paying a ridiculous house note. You're going to just be like, you know what? Forget that house, sell it. I’m out. 

(Music in)

But then what? 

It’s a question that came up with almost everyone I talked to in Lake Charles. If people couldn’t afford to rebuild here, they would have to leave. But then what?

Where were they supposed to go? Where could they be sure this would never happen to them again? 

Danielle Guillory: There's hurricanes, tornadoes. I mean, there's nowhere you can go where there's not a threat from Mother Nature. 

The Guillories could try to start over somewhere new, but if another storm or a fire ever damaged their home, they’d be right back where they started. At the mercy of their insurance company. 

The more time I’ve spent working on this story, the more I realize that it’s not just about Lake Charles. 

Because practices that insurance companies have used here to avoid paying out claims can be used anywhere. At a certain point, though, just squeezing individual customers to try and curb their losses might not be enough. 

Storms and fires are intensifying nationwide. And we just keep setting records for the number of billion-dollar disasters in this country, year after year. Climate change will only make this worse. 

I wanted to know. How does insurance survive that?

(Music out)

Bob Hunter: The for-profit insurance industry is never going to take on risks they can't handle.

That’s Bob Hunter. He used to run the National Flood Insurance Program. And he says that’s a pretty good model for where things might be headed. 

Back in the ’60s, it became pretty much impossible to get flood insurance. There were a bunch of horrible storms. And private companies dropped a bunch of their customers. 

So the federal government stepped in and offered to make a deal. Bob Hunter says it was a big win for the insurance industry.

Bob Hunter: The partnership to them is, you take the risk, we'll take the money. 

Private insurance companies started selling flood coverage again. But it was underwritten by the federal government. Essentially, the insurance companies collected the premiums, took a cut for themselves, and passed the rest of the money to the federal government.

Bob Hunter: We'll service it and we'll charge you too much for the service. We'll make the money [laughs]. But if things go wrong, you pay it. That’s not a good model.

But it’s still what we’re working with today. If you have flood insurance, odds are, it’s the federal government that’s on the hook for paying out your claims. 

Bob Hunter says the program’s faced a lot of political pressure — pressure to keep premiums low so the coverage is actually affordable, pressure to continue offering policies in places where flood risk is sky high.

Bob Hunter: With all the politics involved, you don't get to enforce the land use and building codes. You still see development on barrier islands. You walk along the shorelines of America and you see buildings that you know are unsafe against the storm surge, and they're still being built, even though I can guarantee you the maps say you shouldn't.

(Music in)

There’s no incentive not to do it. And it’s all of us — taxpayers, the public — who are on the hook for that risk. 

There are smaller examples of government-run insurance popping up at the state level. Louisiana and Florida now operate high-risk insurance pools for homeowners who can’t get coverage, because they’re extra vulnerable to damage from hurricanes. 

In California, there’s a government-created program that insures against wildfires. For now, the actual coverage still comes from private insurance companies.

Amy Bach: The FAIR plan, the California FAIR plan. 

Amy Bach is an insurance consumer advocate based in San Francisco. 

Amy Bach: You know, their policy count just keeps going up and up. 

She says the writing’s on the wall. Private insurers will likely shift more and more of their riskiest policies to state-run insurance pools. The payouts aren’t as good, Amy Bach says.

Amy Bach: But they're better than nothing. And as much as I want everybody to have full insurance at a price they can afford, it's — it may not be realistic. 

I had to remind myself a couple times when I was talking to Amy Bach that this is someone who is an advocate for consumers. But she says we’re just going to have to get used to insurance policies that cost more and cover less, regardless of who’s insuring us — the government or a private company.

Amy Bach: I think people may have to tamp their expectations down a little bit about what they're actually going to get. 

(Music out)

That’s where we are, in an era of increasingly costly disasters, facing a future with intensifying storms and fires. Homeowners will have to figure things out on their own, in a way they haven’t before. 

(SFX birds, nature sounds)

Danielle Guillory: Try to catch you some supper. You won't always be successful.

(SFX fishing line cast)

One night, before I left Lake Charles, Danielle invited me to come out fishing with her at her family’s favorite spot, just outside the city. Nothing was biting.

Danielle Guillory: But it's a pretty view, prettier than a lot of people get.

Danielle Guillory fishes at sunset.
Danielle Guillory fishes at sunset.
Jamie Hobbs for American Public Media

We stood at the edge of a creek, surrounded by tall grasses and marshland, everything soft in the evening light. The sun dipped lower and lower.

Danielle Guillory: See, that part right there reminds me of like, The Lion King.

Lauren Rosethal: I was thinking that too, but I didn't want to say it because I was like, you've seen sunsets, other places, but like —

Danielle Guillory: The orange and purples and blues and —

Lauren Rosenthal: It's just wide open and so flat, and you can see for so far. 

Danielle Guillory: I’m just waiting for Rafiki to come out.

Every time I’d talked with Danielle, she was always cracking jokes. I think that’s just how she copes. Because Danielle was still fighting with her insurance company. She was making headway — getting more money to fix the house — but it was still far from finished.

At end of the day, though, the house was just a house.

Danielle Guillory: I know. Isn't it great when the sun starts to set? 

For Danielle, this was what felt like home.

Danielle Guillory: Everything changes and the sun bounces off of everything. What was once brown is now not, and I don't know, something comforting about being outside. And not having to worry about, ‘oh my God, I got to do this. Oh my God.’ Like, I don't have to worry about that out here. Like, nothing is going to happen. I’m out in the open. 

That feeling was enough to keep her going. And enough to keep her here.

(Music in)

Next time, on In Deep. The fight that people have been locked in, trying to rebuild their city, takes a turn.

Lauren Rosenthal: What? Tornado warning for Lake Charles, Louisiana. Tornado warning in this area until 10:15… 

One day, one historic flood. 

(Music out)

(Music in)

In Deep is reported and produced by me, Lauren Rosenthal, with help from Jamie Hobbs, Anna Canny and Nancy Rosenbaum. Additional reporting this episode by Kristine Liao.

Our editors are Chris Julin and Dave Mann. Thanks to Catherine Winter, Caitlin Esch, Bridget Bodnar, Kori Suzuki, Renata Sago, Annie Baxter and Chris Worthington. Original music by Jelani Bauman. Fact checking by Betsy Towner Levine. This episode was mixed by Derek Ramirez. Our web editor is Andy Kruse. You can find more information, pictures and links to all our episodes at InDeep.org

Photo of Danielle and Alfred Guillory by Ben Depp for American Public Media.