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 Louisiana Supreme Court has punted on its first chance to decide whether a new state constitutional provision declaring gun possession a fundamental right could void a long list of criminal statutes that regulate firearms.
New Orleans' offense, which ranks sixth in the NFL, isn't helping many of its skill players pile up Pro Bowl-type stats. Rather, the approach of coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees has enabled a wide range of play-makers to emerge periodically with high-production outings.
An ordinance phasing out a rebate businesses receive for collecting and remitting sales taxes is tabled, but it doesn’t solve the vexing issue of government revenue.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday, December 12, 2013:
As part of a national undertaking known by industry insiders as the “Butterfly Project,” a rebranded version of The Daily Advertiser is set to launch with Sunday’s edition of the Gannett-owned paper.
Louisiana moved up a slot to 48th in the ranking of healthy states — once again, thank God for Mississippi! — so all this frettin’ about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid per Obamacare ... fuggidaboutit! We don’t need Medicaid no more!
The Denham Springs woman who placed Christmas lights in the shape of a butter finger on her roof in a display of anger directed at neighbors has doubled the trouble for the 2013 holiday season.
The 30-second commercial, to run around the state, is the Democratic senator's first TV spot in her bid for re-election to a fourth term.
It's a number that has edged up but falls far short of the thousands who are eligible for subsidized coverage.
A group of mostly higher education leaders will make recommendations to state lawmakers about how to tweak the policies governing tuition rates charged at the state's public colleges.
That would be Congressman John Fleming talking about Sen. David Vitter.
The alleged mastermind behind the bribery scheme that went on for four years under DA Mike Harson’s nose isn’t just schizophrenic, bipolar and recovering from mini strokes; he now says he has cancer.
Louisiana's higher education leaders are trying to work out a financing deal to keep the state's public colleges from running low on state cash to operate their campuses.
With their latest triumph, the Saints left little doubt about how tough they are to beat in the Superdome. Unfortunately, two of their remaining three games are on the road.
For the first time in at least five years, retired teachers, state workers and school system employees could see an increase in their pension checks.
Lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration shared a collective sigh of relief with the news that Louisiana's tax amnesty program brought in the $200 million that they used to help balance this year's budget.
Drew Brees often makes the extraordinary look routine, particularly during night games in the Superdome.
The teams were extended invitations Sunday for the New Year's Day matchup played at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If all 44 projects are approved, about $300 million would remain in the fund set up as a down payment to help the Gulf.
Last week, the Saints gave up 429 yards to Seattle, second most in a game this season.
Since Anthony Jennings and Brooks Haack were not expected to contribute until next year at the earliest, it seemed like a sneak peek at hidden Christmas gifts.
Louisiana National Guard personnel seeking benefits for same-sex spouses will have an easier time filing the requests, despite a state refusal to let its workers process the paperwork.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera sees one potential flaw with his team's stellar defensive play so far this season. "Apparently we like to bite on the double moves," Rivera said.
Computer hackers may have gained access to the personal information of thousands of Louisiana residents who use debit cards issued by JPMorgan Chase for three state agencies, authorities said Wednesday.
Jim Purcell, who has been in the job since February 2011, notified the Board of Regents about his decision at its monthly meeting.