After Further Storm Devastation, Cameron Coast Parish Against Questions About Its Future | Lake Charles News


CREOLE – Cherie Hardie and her family were determined to come back and rebuild for the third time, near the church where she married and her children were baptized, the Gulf of Mexico in the distance. But sometimes it feels like they’re fighting a losing battle.

“We are younger and we can rebuild. But our whole family – my parents, my husband’s parents – they’re all moving. They are fed up, ”said Hardie, 42, outside her daughter’s home, where she and her husband are living temporarily while their home repairs are completed.

“You can’t take that many, and we’re trying to be strong and want to come home. But for me, home is where your family is, and they’re all moving away from us.

Cameron Parish, which stretches along the southwest coast of Louisiana, is the least populated of the state’s 64 parishes. It is also one of the most vulnerable. Cameron is once again facing questions about his future after the devastation caused by last year’s hurricanes and the future risks posed by climate change.

Some residents predict that the lower part of the parish closest to the Gulf, where large liquefied natural gas plants currently operate, will gradually become more of a recreational and industrial center than a community in its own right.

Parish officials say they are not going anywhere. They point to reconstruction plans, including the ability to purchase and redevelop a property with resilient homes, a program that could make it more affordable for families facing expensive reconstruction regulations.

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The challenges are immense, from replacing broken power lines to fighting to reopen grocery stores. Parish officials say they don’t yet know how many in the parish have around 7.000 locals have returned, but locals offer grim estimates, indicating the possibility of another similar population loss to that following Hurricane Rita in 2005. A drop of about a third took place at the end of this decade.

In a disheartening sign, three Catholic churches in Lower Cameron will be consolidated.

Hurricane Laura in August, the most powerful storm to make landfall in Louisiana since 1856, brought a storm surge as high as 17 feet to parts of the parish, while 150 mph winds tore homes that have not been swept from their foundations, in some cases not found.

Ten months later, Hardie and her husband still haven’t returned to their house, which has taken in over 2 feet of water despite having been raised over 10 feet. Just a few weeks ago their daughter returned to her houseuse nearby on property that has been in the family for generations.

They have no deadline for when their house, located in the community of Creole, will be repaired. It was difficult to persuade entrepreneurs to accept work in the remote area.

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“There are a lot of people who want to come home. It’s just the cost, ”said Hardie, who worked as a secretary in one of the merged churches and whose husband works in the oil industry. “And then, honestly, finding people to come here to rebuild. Nobody wants to come down here. It’s truly sad.”

Uncertain return

Despite being one of the largest parishes in the state, Cameron had the third lowest population in Louisiana before Laura roared in August and Category 2 Hurricane Delta followed a similar trajectory about six weeks. later.

About 10,000 people lived here at the turn of the 21st century. But by 2010, after being hit by Hurricanes Rita and Ike, Cameron’s population had fallen to around 6,800.

It’s a place of deep traditions that is strongly conservative, with some 91% of voters voting for Donald Trump in the last election – the highest share he took in any parish. About 93% of the population is white.

Perched in the southwest corner of the state on the border with Texas, it has long been known for its commercial fishing and the community of Holly Beach along the coast, whose camps and beach life are only not unlike what can be found in Grand Isle. Gravestones in cemeteries are sometimes carved with boats and fish.

Cameron also served as a hub for the energy industry, and in recent years, helped by the rise of hydraulic fracturing, the parish has attracted liquefied natural gas factories, which export all over the world. Cameron Parish Port manager Clair Hebert Marceaux said if Cameron Parish was a country, its LNG exports would be No.3 in the world, behind Australia and Qatar.

Government buildings in Cameron, Louisiana on Thursday, May 13, 2021 (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Two huge LNG plants are operational while a third – Venture Global – is under construction and is already considering expansion. Others are in the planning phase. White tourist bus transport construction workers who often live in RV parks to and from Venture Global’s huge site, in front of commercial fishing boats.

Plaques from outside the state of Texas, Alabama, Florida and elsewhere indicate the attractiveness of construction jobs, and Marceaux says she and the parish are constantly working to promote the local hiring. Every 10 jobs in construction translates to about one permanent position at LNG facilities, she said.

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Parish administrator Katie Armentor said some residents may decide to move further north into the parish rather than leaving it altogether, noting that some who had only returned recently after previous storms were again hit by Laura.

But she pointed to other coastal communities across the country and said she did not support buying properties to turn them into green space. They should be rearranged in a way that makes them safe, she said, as the parish did with its government buildings in Lower Cameron after Hurricane Rita.

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Still, she told residents facing the decision to come back: “A lot of people, they really don’t know… If we had this poll out there and asked who’s coming back and who isn’t, probably over 50% would say, ‘I don’t know yet.’ It depends on the insurance, it depends on the grant funds. It depends on whether they have been significantly damaged or not.

Like other officials in southwest Louisiana, Armentor said a federal relief program could help the parish fund a program to help residents hoping to return.

‘I started to pray’

Those who have come back to demean Cameron say it takes patience. The closest open grocery store for many in this area is about 40 miles away. A gas station and convenience store in the small community of Cameron, the headquarters of the parish, sometimes run out of fuel.

Electricity has been restored, but is supplied by groups of generators powered by LNG. Sometimes failures can occur due to malfunctions or maintenance issues.

Jeff Davis Electric Co-Op, which supplies most of the parish, has lost all of its transmission towers crossing the Intracoastal Waterway, said chief executive Michael Heinen. He hopes to secure federal funding to not only rebuild, but to do so in a more secure manner, with his current estimate at some $ 200 million.

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Heinen said the cooperative had around 11,000 electricity meters in the area before the storm. It has now fallen to about 9,500, including about 2,000 campers set up for workers at the plant.

The commercial fishing industry was also affected, with 13 boats sinking while being transported to what was supposed to be a safe harbor, Marceaux said.

One belonged to Frankie Mock, 58, who survived a heart-wrenching experience weathering the storm in his other boat in Lake Charles. He had to jump into the water with a rope tied around him because he suffered damage.

Before being rescued, he said, “I gave up. I sat down and started to pray, I asked the good Lord to watch over my grandchildren, my ex-wife and my family.

But he has since left, and one recent day he was welding parts for his other shrimp boat, the Golden Eagle, along the Calcasieu pass.

Craig Colten, professor emeritus in the Department of Geography and Anthropology at LSU and author of an upcoming book on coastal land loss titled “State of Disaster,” said communities such as Lower Cameron are likely to see episodic migration disappear with each disaster rather than a single mass. Exodus.


Months after Hurricane Laura, the remains of a house in Creole, Louisiana in Cameron Ward on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

He said government policies shouldI will focus on voluntary takeovers and the transplanting of communities further inland, allowing people to better retain their sense of culture.

“I think what we are already seeing is that with every storm there is going to be a pulse of people leaving,” he said. “And once the community gets too small or can’t support a post office, a grocery store, a school, a church or two, then the population really starts to disappear.

There are certainly those who brave it. Kristi Bearb has resumed her job of running the Darla K Food Mart and gas station in Lower Cameron, even though her house was completely washed away. She also lost her home to Rita and Ike, and before Laura lived in a large storage container converted into a house, a strategy others used as well.

At first, she didn’t want to come back, but decided to do so after the store owner asked her to. She now lives in a 30 foot RV. When asked why she kept coming back, she replied, “it’s home”.

“It’s a quiet little town. People here are hardliners, ”she said, keeping an eye on the store with construction workers pouring in, shouting at a driver at one point that there was no gasoline. available at the moment.

“But if it happens again, I’m not. It’s too much. Emotionally, it’s too much.

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