Updated: Monday September 26th
Location: City of Dulac, Highway 57, Terribone Parish
Fifty miles southwest of New Orleans, the Houma Navigation Canal is a 36 mile man-made linear gash running from the Gulf of Mexico to the small city of Houma in Terrebonne Parish. The canal bypasses several small fishing villages perched like wading birds with one leg on the two lane blacktop of State Road 57 and the other anchored in the marshy bayou. Small brackish creeks and channels connect the shrimping villages with the canal and the open water of the Gulf.
When Hurricane Rita collided with the Louisiana coast, the storm pushed a wall of water into thousands of square miles of bayou backed by south winds that kept the water bottled up for days.
The same Houma Navigation Canal that allows ships to penetrate the marsh grass and hardwood swamps of the bayou allowed the storm surge from Rita to do the same. A flood of muddy water and silt up to eight feet high ran through the bayou and swallowed up the small fishing villages of southern Louisiana. Alongside Highway 57, the towns of Ashland, Bayou Calliou and Dulac found themselves under flood waters and the sheen of diesel fuel spills.
The town of Dulac, home to a large community of Houma Native Americans was hit especially hard, their levees crippled by the same underfunding of flood protection that made New Orleans vulnerable. President Bush's 2006 budget included no money for flood protection efforts in Terrebonne despite a request for $10 million by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans District. Standing in a foot of muddy water in front of the Dulac community center, Houma native and methodist pastor Kirby Verret observed, "No one really sees us down here."
FEMA certainly doesn't see Dulac or the other towns. Despite the constant buzz of helicopters in the air, and nearly 10,000 homes in Terrebonne Parish destroyed, FEMA has yet to declare this parish a disaster area. When FEMA was asked about the flood damage in Terrebonne Parish during a Sunday press conference, the government mouthpiece stated, "We have helicopters flying over the area. We are assessing the damage."
Adding ignorance to insult, folks living along Highway 57 were told by FEMA they could not remove the rapidly molding furniture and appliances from their homes or else they would void disaster funds. With 90 degree temperatures turning such an absurd restriction into a serious heath hazard, most families are emptying their homes as soon as the water recedes, FEMA's "poverty pimping" be damned.
No matter the super-spin being put on Hurricane Rita relief efforts to bolster Bush's abysmal poll numbers, the real report is that thousands of people have had their homes destroyed and families displaced. No one is sure how the shrimping will recover until the debris clears out of the rivers and creeks and fishing begins anew. Like farmers, a good shrimp harvest means boat payments and yearly bills are paid. If the shrimping is disrupted, an economic disaster may continue far beyond the immediate affects of the flood.
Hurricane relief efforts continue to run along race and class lines. While the misery might not be evident to FEMA damage assessors far removed from the reality on the ground by their aerial surveys, relief organizers from Common Ground have been sending trucks and supplies to the small towns of Ashland, Bayou Calliou and Dulac for three days. The damaged houses and heavy hearts are clear to us.
Maybe its the fact that Terrebonne is populated with working class brown, black, Cajun and Native American people. The area isn't easily accessible, doesn't have any five star hotels like the renovating French Quarter, and doesn't allow for a quickie Presidential "moment" between rounds of golf. It's just the home to proud, resourceful fishermen and hard workers. With Red Cross and many of the other Disaster Industrial Complex profiteers pulling out of areas ravaged by Katrina, and with Rita refusing to provide the disaster film footage necessary for multiple Presidential photo-ops, its quite possible Terrebonne will continue without Federal assistance.
I've been personally touched by the people of Terrebonne Parish. Growing up on boats and spending part of my life among shrimpers and crabbers on the Georgia coast, I have a special kinship with those who make a living from the sea. I'm proud to work in solidarity with their efforts to rebuild.
In compliment to native-led efforts, Common Ground has provided some of the first assistance that some Terrebonne communities have received. We've handed out hundreds of gallons of water and box after box of food and diapers. We don't have enough personal hygeine kits to even remotely meet the need of those families who've lost everything. And for those families that are cleaning out the mud and mold, ten semi-trucks of cleaning supplies would not be enough. (But it would be a start!)
The Methodist Church in Dulac feeds over 100 families every month. Their storage area has been flooded and they are concerned how they will continue this assistance until new food donations arrive. Multiple teams of volunteers are needed to work in solidarity with the residents here to clean up homes and provide hot food. Additional supplies are needed.
Please support Common Ground by 1) Volunteering your time here in Louisiana. A few days isn't too little and a few months isn't too much. 2) Send trucks, vans or other vehicles full of supplies to the Common Ground office in Algiers or to our post office box. 3) Tell your friends about what's really happening in the hurricane affected areas. Visit http://www.realreports.blogspot.com and other independent media like New Orleans Indymedia - http://neworleans.indymedia.org for information you won't get on the corporate news channels.
Common Ground is community-run organization offering temporary assistance and mutual aid to the citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. Common Ground's team includes doctors, lawyers, aid workers, community organizers, and volunteers of all stripes and creeds. For more information visit http://www.commongroundrelief.org.