September 4, 2005

Dear Friends, Supporters, Donors, Funders,

On Friday, Sister Helen Vinton, Wilma Subra and I were able to get into LaFourche Parish (County), south and somewhat southwest of New Orleans. Driving us was Jene Galvin of Jene’s media pass helped us get through certain areas.

Off Highway 90 and onto Highway 1 we went into the fingers of land jutting south into Louisiana’s liquid lands and open waters.

In LaRose, damage to trees and roof tops was everywhere. The LaRose Civic Center was shelter for a hundred or so rural residents of the area where homes were uninhabitable but not destroyed. Patricia Canupp and her great granddaughter having fled west to Cameron returned to find the roof of her trailer collapsed onto her bed. Sitting in the well run shelter since Tuesday, Patricia, when asked what she was going to do about her trailer said, “I don’t know yet. I’m on fixed income and have diabetes. I ‘spect I have to wait a good while because this is real big – those poor people in New Orleans.”” Tears only came to her eyes when she wondered out loud what’s happened to her daughter. They got separated and Patricia doesn’t know where she is.

Patricia Canupp and her great granddaughter in the LaRose shelter – Her trailer roof collapsed onto her bed. Patricia worries “about those poor people in New Orleans.”

All through LaFourche Parish, the rural families were resigned to figuring it out among themselves – with no complaints – as though it was only right they should wait.

The LaFourche Community Action Agency and local churches and families who were less impacted helped the diverse families seeking shelter – Creoles, African Americans, Native Americans of the Houma Nation, Cajuns, Asian Americans.

One of the many small shrimp boats flipped over by Hurricane Katrina in the LaFourche Parish area.

Moving south through Galliano to Golden Meadow, we stopped along the bayou to take in the overturned shrimp boats and to talk to Charles, Jenny and Gary Borne, a family that shrimps for a living but not this year. Gary had just had help from two other shrimpers to right his overturned boat. Climbing into the mud coated 30′ vessel, I was given a tour of the damage – mud in the engine, ruined ceiling, light textures and wiring and broken windows. “It’s six thousand to fix it if we do most of it ourselves,” Gary said. He had no idea where he’d get the money. “I’m finished for this shrimp season,” he said, “and the shrimp’s no good now.”

Looking down the road directly across from the bayou, one roof top after another has plastic or the blue tarps we’ve all come to associate with hurricanes.

Octogenarian Mildred Serigne and all her family are shrimpers. They had two boats, larger, with thirty thousand dollars in damages but still might try to shrimp this season – if there’s any shrimp to catch.

Our travels continued all the way to the tip of LaFourche Parish to Port Fourchon where multi-storied oil support barges weighing many tons were washed onto and blocking Highway 1. The industry in Port Fourchon has resources and the nation depends on the oil and gas industry; so much activity was underway to clean it all up and scrap the misplaced vessels.

On Monday and Tuesday after Katrina, before our Friday trip into LaFourche, I received a call from Jene, our media companion, asking if we could use two helicopters to help. After some assessment of what we believed happened in Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes (directly south and southeast of New Orleans), I told Jene on Tuesday we needed the helicopters. The only way to get into these extremely remote rural areas quickly would be by helicopter because the access from New Orleans was cut off. SMHA was convinced it was urgent and that, if people had not gotten out in time, they’d be in desperate condition. These are fishers and rural laborers used to working close to the water and land. We needed to get there and get the story out and get rescue in there. There were no Louisiana helicopters for us to rent.

Though we’d planned for Jene’s arrival on Thursday, his Friday arrival was still welcomed. We set off to get as close as possible – Golden Meadow, LaRose, Port Fourchon. All day I pressed my anxiety forward about the helicopters. As the day evolved, it became apparent no helicopters were to come – one was in repair in Florida and the other was too expensive to bring from Cincinnati even though it’s owned by large corporate interests. As we drove more and more into the impacted area my heart became more and more heavy with the certain knowledge that people east of us were in a critical state but too rural, compared to the magnitude of urgency in New Orleans, to be rescued.

The day ended with a promise of possible helicopters in eight days.

I write this Sunday afternoon (September 4th), as I follow a Baton Rouge TV news coverage with steady streamers crawling across the bottom of the screen asking for new socks, underwear and other urgent items. The first coverage is now coming out of St. Bernard Parish. Thirty elderly drowned in a nursing home. Tears stream down my face as I pace with heavy heart knowing the following reports will confirm what we, at SMHA, knew – rural areas would get the last and the least.

Will there be a next generation of Louisiana shrimpers?

For those already gone, it is too late. For those that got out and once earned their livelihoods from those usually giving waters and lands, SMHA will do all it can through its Rural Recovery Fund to help rural families and communities become self sufficient again.

Lorna Bourg
Executive Director
Southern Mutual Help Association, Inc.