Coastal Louisianans Come Home Again to Saltwater
Still recovering from the storms three years ago, Southern Louisiana was submerged again in Hurricanes Gustave and now Ike. Here are photos from Cameron Parish and a heartfelt report from neighboring Vermillion Parish, just east.
In Hackberry, Louisiana, the waters of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike
Photo: Southern Mutual Help Association
It’s Sunday night and I’m driving back from the all-day assessment of Hurricane Ike’s impact on rural communities: Delcambre, Erath, Pecan Island (where we can’t yet go without boats), Cow Island and the Henry hub area roads blocked by water ““ accessible to noisy air boats ““ just a fraction of so much destroyed by Hurricane Ike.
It’s dark now, and my car lights reflect off tree limbs and trunks and large root balls stacked on either side of the road and protruding into the road. All day we saw corridors of the brown, decaying, former lushness of Louisiana. The aftermath of Hurricane Gustav was met with families on higher ground moving remnants of downed trees to roadsides to be picked up by parish utility trucks and burned or landfilled later. The newer looking green on top is the result of today’s industrious response to Hurricane Ike.
Once again dark green army trucks and young soldiers with rifles and camouflage escort and block and point and haul to and from.
Coastal Louisiana’s rural communities are under siege again. The coast comes closer to us every year, every storm. Only houses we and others built on stilts will survive. They must share their ground with occasional watery intrusions.
My beloved Louisiana is washing away.
Every day, Southern Mutual Help Association is receiving new information about the devastating impact of Hurricane Ike on coastal Louisiana. Although the storm made landfall in Texas, Louisiana’s coastline ““ from east to west ““ was exposed to Ike’s storm surge. In Cameron Parish (right across the state line from Texas), the surge of saltwater intruded as much as 40 miles inland.
Richard and Susan Meaux are among the thousands of Louisianans affected by the storm.
The Meauxs relocated to Hackberry because they felt they would be safe there from major flooding, yet close enough to the Gulf of Mexico for Richard to continue to work as a fisher. (In 2005, the couple was preparing to build a home in Holly Beach, which lies on the coast, when Rita struck, destroying their building materials.)
Richard and Susan were allowed to assess their property for the first time Monday, September 16. “I didn’t think we would ever see anything like this,” says Susan. "”˜Amazing’ is about the only word I can think of.” The couple found four feet of saltwater inside their brick home. Area roads remained flooded as well; the pair drove through approximately two feet of water to reach their home.
Three years after being displaced by Hurricane Rita, the Meauxs are faced with starting over, once again. “Even Hurricane Audrey never flooded Hackberry,” says Susan. “Hurricane Ike finished off what Rita didn’t do.”
Editor's Note: Lorna Bourg, executive director of Southern Mutual Help Association, wrote down her impressions after visiting parts of Vermilion Parish September 14, 2008.
More people in Louisiana are without electric power now, since Hurricanes Gustave and Ike struck the Gulf Coast, than lost electrcity with deadly storms Katrina and Rita three years ago.
Before all these storms, Southern Mutual Help Association, a non-profit in Louisiana, had been helping rural families and businesses. SMHA concentrates on long-range strategies such as home ownership and "layered capital investment." Hurricanes Katrina and Rita added urgency to SMHA’s mission of building healthy, prosperous rural communities. Now, with the arrival of Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike, that urgency is intensified once again.