At a lonely intersection in rural Cameron Parish, it’s difficult to see the scars Hurricane Rita left 10 years ago.
You have to look for them, buried beneath the tall grass in empty lots and fields, but they are there. Cracked foundations, stray bricks and pieces of roofs all are small reminders of the disaster that washed ashore in the same year that saw Katrina. At that time, it was the storm that didn’t hit New Orleans and compound the situation there, so most breathed a sigh of relief.
For the residents of towns like Cameron, Creole and Oak Grove, though, it was the beginning of the end.
“Right now there’s no neighbors and nothing else,” said J.B. Meaux, who had a flourishing Oak Grove cattle ranch in 2005. “It’s a lot different from what it was.”
Meaux had a barn on this property just east of Cameron. It’s all gone now and his house did not fare any better.
“My house was about a half a mile from where we are,” he said. “That’s where the water was. Two weeks later, we still couldn’t come back down the road.
“So, I mean, it’s kind ofhard when you see nothing left, something you worked for all of your life. “It really wasn’t anything but a few pieces of equipment, a few dishes and stuff scattered, but the house was all gone. I had seven barns and two equipment sheds that were all gone. My mother’s house and I had another little tenant house. All that is gone.”
Meaux points out the locations to his friend, Uland Guidry. Guidry had a four-bedroom home in Creole. A large, red concrete slab that is cracked in half is all that is left.
“My house was right here,” Guidry said. “I haven’t taken that part out, you know. I will, but I haven’t gotten around to it.”
The will to rebuild is something not shared by many of the folks in Cameron Parish, whose population stood at almost 10,000 prior to Rita. Now, it’s barely above 6,000. Guidry remembers Hurricane Audrey in 1957 and it was exactly a decade later that he decided to build that four-bedroom home in Creole. It was an exciting time when friends and family built a community that lasted almost 40 years.
“I came here in ’67, ten years after Audrey,” Guidry said. “If you look at areas now, it’s sparsely populated. Your relatives and friends, most of them are not here. In ’67 I came to work here, you couldn’t tell a hurricane had been through this country. It was repopulated. Businesses were flourishing. Today, you can tell.”
It’s been telling on business of both Meaux and Guidry, who reduced their cattle inventories in the wake of both Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike which struck the region just three years later, bringing a storm surge twice as high as 2005.
““For a year, we couldn’t take care of our livestock,” Guidry said, who reduced his herd from 300 to 200. Meaux is down to less than 100 cows. “We had them in other places.”
The damage to agriculture totaled $600 million in losses, but that doesn’t count what has never recovered. Some things, Meaux said, you can’t put a price on. Unlike his friend, he’s not going to rebuild here.
“You kind of come back and you get to looking around and you see what’s not there,” Meaux said. “Thinking about what used to be and how in the evening people would come around and visit. Your old friends and things that not here anymore. It’s really kind of depressing.”
The friendship and memories of two old friends do remain in Cameron Parish. Time will tell if it’s a strong enough foundation to rebuild and weather the next storm.