'It's Like Katrina All Over Again,' Survivors Say of Ike
A UMNS Story
by Betty Backstrom*
September 26, 2008— Just one year ago, Mathilda and Glen Verret worked side by side with volunteers who were installing cabinets for a new kitchen in their home.
Their house, like so many others in the small Native American town, had been destroyed by Hurricane Rita in 2005.
Today, Glen Verret looks at those same cabinets, checking to see which can be salvaged and which will need replacing. Verret's home was flooded during Hurricane Ike, which slammed into the Texas-Louisiana coastline as a Category 2 storm on Sept. 13.
Ahead of Ike's landfall, low-lying areas such as Dulac felt the brunt of the storm surge, which re-flooded areas affected by Hurricane Gustav just two weeks prior. Most of Louisiana's 250-mile coast was flooded by the second storm.
"It's like Rita and Katrina all over again," said Verret, who already has started cleaning out the house and covering a leaking roof with tin.
After a week of assessing storm damage, John Paul McGuire, a volunteer for the disaster response ministry of Louisiana United Methodists, believes that, in Dulac, the damage from Ike is worse than the damage from Rita.
"It's heart breaking," said McGuire. "Houses that were not elevated after Rita are now back to ground zero."
Gustav also Hit Town
Hurricane Gustav, which hit Dulac hard on Labor Day, produced tremendous wind damage to homes in the small shrimping town. "Many of the homes that are elevated received water damage when roofs were torn off, and rainwater poured into the houses," McGuire explained.
Dulac residents Paul and Mae Gregorie elevated their home to 10 feet above sea level after Hurricane Rita. The United Methodists sent teams to install a new kitchen and a parquet wood floor.
Mae now looks at the floor, warped by rainwater. The water entered the home after a tornado spawned by Gustav lifted the roof and set it back down. Water-soaked insulation is bowing the ceiling, which leaked during the storm.
McGuire and Daryl Guy, manager of the Dulac station for the Louisiana Conference disaster response ministry, assured Paul and Mae that United Methodists will return to help them restore their home.
"They did everything the right way. They elevated the home to avoid flooding, yet Gustav caused serious wind damage," Guy said.
Complacent because the first storm did not cause extreme flooding, many Dulac residents decided to stay when they heard that Hurricane Ike was approaching. "Terrebonne Parish was under a voluntary evacuation order. It was never mandatory," McGuire said.
A large number of those who stayed did evacuate as floodwaters began to rise.
"T-Boy (Paul) and I were going to stay, but when I saw the water coming, I couldn't leave my mother here," said Mae, nodding toward the 93-year-old woman standing beside her. "We were taken out by boat. By the time we left, the water was past my knees."
New Volunteer Center
Doris Billiot was busy helping other volunteers move several inches of mud out of the Dulac Community Center, which sits across a flooded road from Clanton Chapel United Methodist Church, next to a newly-constructed volunteer center. The group was preparing to receive a shipment of flood buckets that will be distributed from the center to local residents.
"This is the kind of mud that is in a lot of the houses," said Billiot, whose home escaped the flooding because it is elevated.
Unfortunately, Billiot's house did not escape the wrath of Gustav. A tornado hit her home, causing significant roof damage. A tarp, quickly put up, prevented a large amount of destruction by rainwater.
The Louisiana Conference is preparing to receive work teams to assist with debris removal and restoration of many homes in Dulac. Teams will be hosted in the new volunteer center, built with funding from the United Methodist Committee on Relief. "The building was constructed at a high enough elevation to avoid flooding," Guy said.
Individuals or teams wanting to volunteer should contact the Louisiana Conference of The United Methodist Church Disaster Response, Inc., at email@example.com or call (225)346-5193 or (877) 345-5193.
An amazing spirit of determination is evident when visitors speak to the Native American people whose families have lived in this small town for generations. To move away from the area, despite recurring hurricanes, is for many, unthinkable.
Verret expressed the sentiments of many Dulac residents. "We've done this once," he said. "We'll do it again. They're not gonna chase us from the bayou."
How You Can Help
UMCOR Sager Brown reports that its supply of flood buckets is nearly depleted. Congregations and individuals are urged to send completed buckets or bulk materials. A list of the contents can be found here.
In addition to sending flood buckets, please help UMCOR respond to people affected by Hurricane Ike with a gift to UMCOR Advance #3019695, Hurricanes 2008, Hurricane Ike. Your gift helps us provide immediate on-the-ground support to volunteers, annual conferences and interfaith response efforts.
*Backstrom is director of communications for the Louisiana Annual Conference.