South of Bayou Tigre, where a 5-foot storm surge from Vermilion Bay ravaged the countryside, Kathy Louviere sits on an ice chest on a flat bed trailer. She has a small stack of dishes by her feet, a pile of newspapers in her lap. Her fingers coated with a sheer yellow glaze of mud, she is carefully wrapping each plate with newsprint and stacking it in a box. "Three times the hurricane takes me," she says. "Andrew. Lili. Now Rita. We know to run."
Behind her is a blasted trailer, siding peeled back in curls, windows blown out, the contents tossed, tangled and smeared with mud. Her son Wayne Louviere sits on the concrete steps of the trailer. Two grandsons, Ryan and Logan, and Logan's girlfriend, Ariel Scott, are perched here and there, trying to keep out of the mud.
"We're all family," Wayne says, looking at nearby houses surrounding the trailer. "My aunt lives over there." He points to a grid of piers on one side of Highway 330, a rural road that zigzags south into the marshes below Delcambre before turning west toward the hamlets of Boston, Henry and Bancker. His aunt's house is no longer on its footings. The saltwater surge from Vermilion Bay picked it up and washed it into a field on the other side of the highway.
"I had six pigs," Wayne Louviere says. "Where are they?" He adds with a shrug, "You tell me." Every house the extended family lived in is probably a total loss. But despite the threat of future storms, the Louvieres say they will return. "This is what we own," says Wayne. "If you like hunting and fishing, this is where you want to be. It's the area where you're raised. You wake up here, you hear cows."
"There's a disaster everywhere," adds Kathy. "Run from what? An earthquake in California? Tornadoes in the Midwest? We know to get out when there's a hurricane. Then we come home." She looks at the small pile of heirloom china in her lap, "But I'm not collecting stuff any more."
Further down the highway in Boston (pronounced bos-TON), Dale Reaux is scraping the mud out of his yard with a shovel. His house, towering on tall pillars, rises high above nearby dwellings constructed on slabs. A visible water line marks red brick walls at 5 feet, but the leaping waves got as high as 8 feet. Reaux built his house in 2001, and in order to get flood insurance required by Reaux's bank for a loan, he had to build to FEMA requirements that require new construction to be 11 feet above sea level. "By accident, I built about 18 inches higher than that," he says. "I was really mad at my contractor then ' every foot costs more ' but it paid off," Reaux says. "I'm the only one on the road here who didn't get water inside. I just got cow damage," he says with a rueful smile. "Four cows were on my porch."
Reaux's mother-in-law lives 50 yards away, and her low-lying house was engulfed. "I don't know if the house is fixable," says her daughter, Michelle Reaux. "There's an eel inside. There are snakes inside. My mother is going to move in with me."
Michelle Reaux's mother doesn't have flood insurance. The 70-year-old house never flooded before, and after the family finished paying off the mortgage, they dropped expensive flood insurance. It's the case all over southwest Louisiana, where Cajuns experienced what they thought would be the worst hurricane to ever strike the marsh, Hurricane Audrey, in 1957. Audrey devastated Cameron Parish, but the storm surge didn't inundate the communities east of Abbeville the way Rita did.
When the water rushed up from the south last week, it only had three miles to travel through marsh before it washed over Boston. And as the wetlands continue to erode, that distance will become shorter and put rural residents at further risk.
"It's because the shell reefs were dredged," Roland Viator says. The reefs, off the Louisiana coast, broke storm surges the same way barrier islands do. But dredging was big business in southwest Louisiana well into the 1970s. "There was never a history of water on my land," Viator says. "If the coast had been taken care of, we never would have had this."
Viator reddens with anger in the hot sun. He is helping his friends Terry Hebert and Dwight Brassaux round up cattle that are threatened with dehydration from drinking salt water. Brassaux's young daughters, freckle faced and spattered with mud, sit on the ledge of the horse trailer parked in front of Henry Elementary school. His sons, spurs on their boots, will help round up the cattle. But it's noon, and Viator, who owns Circle V meat processing plant south of Abbeville, is barbecuing pork chops for lunch. They eat them country style, bone in, between two slices of white bread.
"My plant is entirely washed out," Viator says. "It's 13 feet above sea level. That's what FEMA wanted. It shouldn't have flooded. Where's FEMA now?" demands Viator.
"Take it easy, Roland," says Hebert.
"I should be retiring," snaps the 66-year-old Viator. "Now I have to start all over again."
The magnitude of destruction seems insurmountable. But inhabitants of these parts have built their lives on self-reliance. When disaster strikes, neighbors and friends are the first responders.
Rudy and Diana Thibodeaux, who are in their 60s, stand next to their car gazing at their house, about 40 yards from the road. But it feels 100 miles away. The liquid mud makes access impossible, and there is a dead cow on their porch. "We're going to try to fix our house," Diana says, her voice quivering. Rudy looks pale. But their resolve returns as their son, Max, rumbles over on a tractor and starts cleaning the driveway with a box scraper. Then his uncle John Langlinais, who lives down the road, stops by. He asks Max, "You think you can pull that cow off that porch with the front end loader?" Max replies, "You got some chains?"
Max Thibodeaux's trailer, just down the way, also took on water. But he has no intention of leaving the land he was born on. "I'm gonna come back from this," he says. "I'm going to build a house one day, right here. Just a little bit higher."
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.