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Ike Swamps Native Communities in Louisiana Bayous

Reznet News, News Report, Posted: Sep 15, 2008

RACELAND and HOUMA, La. Weary evacuees filled rescue shelters, and local officials watched the costly damage mount from Hurricane Ike after its massive storm surge swamped Louisiana's coastline and flooded the bayou communities where much of the state's Native American population lives.

Thousands fled the region as mandatory evacuations were ordered for low-lying portions of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, and those fleeing the storm included members of the United Houma Nation, the Pointe-au-Chien tribe, the Isle de Jean Charles Band and the Lafourche Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation.

Many of the Native Americans were among those living in some of the most vulnerable communities of the bayou including the Isle de Jean Charles, an island connected by a narrow access road that was quickly covered by water and made impassable as Ike drew closer.

The dozens of families who call "The Island" their home had already suffered some of the worst damage in the state when Hurricane Gustav plowed through the region the first of the month. A number of homes were destroyed. Other houses lost their roofs and walls while still homes were knocked off their foundation. One house even ended up on a levee more than a hundred yards away after being ripped from its foundation.

Chris Brunet was one of those island residents who left as Ike drew near. And by the time he departed Sept. 11, water had already spilled into the roadway linking the island to the rest of Terrebonne Parish and threatened to close off the one exit road.

"All we can do is hope and pray that when we go back home, there is something left," said Brunet, a councilman on the island for the Biloxi-Chitimacha.

At least two people were reported dead and tens of thousands were forced from their homes as dangerous water levels submerged neighborhoods and closed off highways, forcing people still reeling from Hurricane Gustav less than two weeks earlier to flee their homes and businesses yet again.

"We're very tired of these hurricanes. It's just like a repeat of the mud, the water and rebuild and rebuild," said Dena Foret, 41, of Dulac, La., who has spent the last three nights at Houma Junior High School along with nearly two dozen of her friends and family members in the school gymnasium.
Samantha Verdin was at the shelter with her twin 1-year-olds, their father and grandmother.

"The water was not so bad when we left but it was climbing," she said of the family's hasty departure from Dulac, adding that the family just got off the phone with a friend who remained in the area. "We just heard that we have two feet of water in our house and it's still rising," she said.

The women and their families were among many Natives struck by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. They include members of the United Houma Nation, the Pointe-au-Chien tribe, the Isle de Jean Charles Band and the Lafourche Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation.

Many of those hardest hit lived in Dulac and Montague in Terrebonne Parish and Pointe Aux Chene in Lafourche Parish, which experienced water levels that rose as high as six feet and could be seen in parts as a massive lake. Those buildings that were not elevated were filled with water, and cars could be seen stranded where they were left.

Although Hurricane Ike touched land nearly 200 miles to the west, violent winds which reached 75 mph and the relentless surge were blamed for damage to a number of homes and two deaths.
The deaths were reported in Houma where a 52-year-old man was said to have been found in a parking lot after apparently being hurled by the wind into a pole. The other death was of a 16-year-old in Dularge who was found at his some, an apparent drowning victim.

For many in the area who are still reeling from Gustav, they also still remember the twin punch of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita three years ago. While Katrina brought the violent winds that tore off rooftops and shattered homes, it was Rita that propelled such a strong storm surge that many houses including a number of Native communities suffered massive water damage while fishing boats lie wrecked in the bayou.

Related Articles:

Katrina, Rita and the Houma Tribe: A Nation Recovers

Restoring Order After Katrina's Devastation

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