One week following the devastation of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, my husband Calvin and I, along with our good friends Mike and Carol Stachurski of United Peace Relief took a damage assessment trip to the flooded coastal area called Pointe-aux-Chenes. Located along the southeastern coast of Louisiana in Lafourche Parish, this stretch of bayou is inhabited by a Native American/French tribe called the Biloxi-Chitimacha. We packed the vehicle with shovels, brooms, bleach, rubber gloves and masks needed to clean up the muck that always ends up coating the floors and furniture of homes that get flooded. Theresa Dardar, a Biloxi-Chitimacha living in the neighborhood became our escort for the day. Theresa and I were introduced by a mutual friend of ours, Dr. Robin Rose, who spent some months administering health care to this area following the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. As we entered this tiny coastal town (Pointe-aux Chenes), massive amounts of swamp grass could be seen in every direction, personal belongings destroyed by the floodwaters were strewn across lawns, yards were full of knee deep mud crawling with snakes making it impossible to walk on, blue tarps covered roofs to keep the rain out, downed trees demolished vehicles and houses. Every household in this area felt the effects of the double storm.
Every household we walked into had thick black mud to contend with. Until you have seen it, you will never truly understand its effects. Once the floodwaters recede, it leaves behind a black muck 2to 3 inches deep that must be hand scrubbed. The odor it leaves behind is that of the adjoining swamp.
Ebro Verdin’s house sat back from the road. To get to it, we walked along some 4 x 4’s laying along his mud filled front yard. A large wooden cabinet lying outside had been destroyed by the floodwaters, along with piles of his belongings. Mops covered in muck lay to the side of the porch. He showed us his freezer that had not been emptied, still filled with his rotting meats and seafood. The electric power had been off for over a week. As we entered his house, we could see 2 inches of muck along the floors and cabinets. He showed us a large round hole in the middle of the living room that he had cut in order to let the water drain out.
The ceilings were intact with a beautiful wood finish. He was a carpenter by trade and he took pride in his house. He told us how he had finally just recovered his house right before Gustav and Ike came through. In spite of all this devastation, his big smile bore conveyed his positive outlook. This was life along the coast. He had wanted to raise his house on stilts after Rita but was unable to find the finances to do so.
The story of Roger Verdin and his 82-year-old mother Marcelite Narquinis is another heart-breaking story.
Their home was first flooded by Gustav, and then turned upside down by Ike. The local authorities have since condemned it. This has forced both of them to move into a small shack along the side of their house. Two small cots for sleeping sit on damp wooded floors, while large holes in the roof are covered with a blue tarp to keep the rain water out. Next to the living area is their makeshift kitchen, which consists of an old rusty propane stove to cook on, along with old rusty pots. The back room is a bathroom with a five gallon white bucket for their toilet and a rusty washbasin to bath in. Everyone was heartsick to see this 82-year-old woman living in such deplorable conditions. In spite of their situation, both mother and son continued to smile and not once did I hear any complaints.
When I questioned Theresa how we might possibly get this family a trailer to live in, she told me no one on the land was eligible for FEMA coverage because the land is leased and passed on through generations.
Years ago, the community thrived on local fishing and community gardens. With the influx of commerce that has contributed to the eroding of the coasts, along with the increased temperatures of the surrounding waters due to global warming, more frequent and powerful storms are now destroying their way of life. This strong, proud people who never complain or give up, continue to hang onto to their culture and community and refuse to give up.
Elaine Langley, Registered Nurse and Plenty International Volunteer