By Alan Freeman
'Marsh rats' set to rebuild area devastated by hurricane. Wrath of
Rita crushes Cameron Parish -- but not its many resilient residents.
SULPHUR, LA. -- Dwight Guitry bristles when a stranger suggests that
Cameron Parish may not be the best place to rebuild his life after
another hurricane shattered the isolated region on the Texas-Louisiana
"This is my home and this little hurricane ain't going to stop me,"
said Mr. Guitry, a fishing-camp operator who's desperate to get back
home to the nearby town of Hackberry to survey the damage wrought by
Mr. Guitry and about a dozen other residents of the town have
congregated at the northern end of Ellender Bridge, which spans the
Intercoastal Waterway and where the Cameron County Sheriff's
Department has erected a roadblock to stop anybody but essential
service personnel from getting into the parish. Even getting to the
bridge along Highway 27 is a dangerous drive across downed
transmission lines lying like metal spaghetti on the roadway, the
poles that carried it at precarious angles or shattered on the ground.
Cameron Parish was ground zero for hurricane Rita, its fishing
villages and coastal towns devastated by the wrath of the storm.
"Holly Beach is no longer there. The only structure left there is the
water tower. Holly Beach is now just a sand flat," said Randy Hunt, an
officer with the Sheriff's Department who's manning the roadblock. "In
Cameron, the court house survived but the school is destroyed and the
library is gone. It's just a big mess."
In Hackberry, where Mr. Hunt's own home sustained extensive damage,
the Catholic church was virtually destroyed and coffins from the
adjacent cemetery have floated away.
For Cameron Parish, a marshy region of alligator-infested bayous, oil
terminals and fishing villages populated with Cajuns with surnames
such as Bergeron, Daigle and Thibodeaux, Rita was not the first
uninvited visitor to try and destroy the place. Forty-eight years ago,
hurricane Audrey hit the same region, killing 390 people, making it
one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history.
That was before the days of accurate weather forecasting, so many of
Audrey's victims died in their beds. With that knowledge and the
collective memory of the 1957 storm, most people evacuated from
Cameron Parish on the eve of Rita's arrival and none of its 9,200
Jeff Moore was one of the few holdouts. "I'm pretty hard-headed,"
declared the 20-year-old barge employee just after landing here on an
aluminum boat from Hackberry; he had ridden out the storm in his home
with his work buddy Jack East. "It was pretty intense, pretty
rough. You could hear the shingles popping off the roof. You could
hear the tin coming off our out-buildings. There was a lot of
shaking." Asked if he would repeat the experience, the young man
didn't hesitate a moment. "I sure wouldn't do it again."
James Devall also rode out the storm in the wheelhouse of one of the
tugboats he operates with his three brothers, which they had moored
beneath the bridge at the home base of their industrial barge company,
"It sounded like a tornado. It was something else. I prayed a lot of
rosaries," said Mr. Devall, who was seven years old when Audrey
hit. "It just rang and rang. It was so powerful, I thought something
Ignoring the sheriff's order to stay out of the parish, Mr. Devall
snuck into Hackberry and discovered that his home had survived, except
with a hole in his living room and water in his kitchen. At the
roadblock, the policemen have relaxed their rules and allowed
residents with cattle through the line to try and save their animals,
many of whom are marooned in the sea water that the storm surge
"I still have five horses in my pasture," said Bodie Jenks, who works
at an oil storage depot in Hackberry. "They haven't had any water in
three days." Temperatures are hovering at 100 F.
Mr. Jenks sees no reason why he and other residents of the parish
shouldn't rebuild. "It's either fight the hurricanes here or fight the
tornadoes up north."
David Reeves, dressed in the blue jumpsuit of the oil-services firm he
works for, was also anxious to get through the roadblock to check on
his house. Asked if he would rebuild, he smiled and nodded enthusiast-
"It's home. We were born and raised here. We're marsh rats."
The death toll from Rita reached at least nine after five members of a
Texas family were found dead in a Beaumont apartment, victims of
carbon-monoxide poisoning from a generator used during the storm, and
a 43-year-old man and a 56-year-old woman in Liberty County, Texas,
died when a tree crushed their mobile home.
A steady stream of people were brought by small boats from flooded
sections in Terrebonne Parish, La., where nearly 9,900 homes were
severely damaged. The Office of Emergency Preparedness said the
floodwaters were going down in most areas.
More than 110,000 people living in Beaumont, Tex., were urged not to
return home, since water, electricity, telephone and sewer services
will not be restored for weeks.
About 300,000 customers were without power in Louisiana, and 250,000
in Texas, a number cut in half since the storm hit.
At least 16 Texas oil refineries remained shut down, but just one
faces weeks of repairs.
U.S. President George W. Bush urged Americans to cut back on unnecess-
ary travel to make up for fuel shortages. "We can all pitch in by
being better conservers of energy," he said, but that didn't mean
curtailing his plans to return to the region this week. He also said
the government was ready to release fuel from its emergency oil
stockpile to alleviate high prices.
The army used Blackhawk helicopters equipped with satellite-
positioning systems to search for up to 30,000 head of roaming cattle
amid fears as many as 4,000 may have been killed in Cameron Parish
alone, where ranchers on horseback struggled to herd animals into
corrals attached to pickup trucks.
Copyright 2005 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.
The Globe and Mail Newspaper.
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