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 Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
A New Orleans levee board wants to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for decades of damage to our state’s coastline, but the Legislature may be poised to put the kibosh on the suit.
New standards curb elective induction
CVS stops tobacco sales
If an Acadia Parish fiddler misses a note while swatting a fly, will a St. Martinville accordionist learn “Ma ‘Tite Fille”?
(It's good, it's bad and it's just crazy)