December 16, 2010

The Effects of Hurricane Rita on Louisiana's Southwest Coast

Everyone knows about Hurricane Katrina and what it did to New Orleans. What most of us forget is that one month later, another large storm with winds up to 180 miles per hour struck Southern Louisiana. It was Hurricane Rita. While the area where the eye hit is sparsely populated, it completely obliterated five towns along the coast and caused storm surges all the way to Lake Charles.

The foundations of a home destroyed by Rita

The effects of this devastating hurricane remain easy to see by visiting Cameron Parish, one of the most remote and scenic areas of Louisiana. Located in far southwest Louisiana, it is actually the area where oil was first discovered along the gulf coast. The towns of Holly Beach and Cameron were wiped out and then when they tried to start rebuilding, Hurricane Ike rolled through in 2008 and wiped them out again.

"Temporary" housing in Holly Beach

The town of Cameron, the parish seat of government, still has its post office and several government offices in trailers. The school and a church have been rebuilt, but much of the town remains in temporary structures.  Holly Beach still has no businesses.

Another foundation of a home destroyed by Hurricane Rita

There are still many residents who want to return to their communities. But, rebuilding has been very slow. One of the reasons is that since these two hurricanes arrived, the building codes have been heavily upgraded and hurricane/flood insurance is extremely expensive, if you can get it at all. This has meant that most people simply do not have the money to rebuild. Sometimes, even if they do, building permits from the parish are very hard to come by...

People grumble and complain about this "beaurocracy" getting in their way of rebuilding. But, seriously what do they expect? They live in the track of hurricanes at sea level!

Most people who have returned live in trailers

What appears to have happened along the coast is that people took their 2005 Hurricane Rita insurance settlements and bought a new travel trailers to live in while they tried to get the resources and permits to rebuild. Virtually all of the trailers are pretty new looking. But, after Hurricane Ike came along, they are still stuck in their trailers unable to rebuild.
Apparently at least a few folks had the financial resources to rebuild on the beach

 Well, at least the trailers are movable, so you can evacuate your home if another hurricane comes. But, I can tell you from experience owning a travel trailer, I am not sure how they keep it cool in there in the summer heat and humidity! Our little AC couldn't keep up with that much heat.

From Holly Beach, there are dozens of off-shore oil platforms visible on the horizon. It must be some feat of engineering to secure them in advance of a hurricane!

Another off-shore rig

The homes that have been rebuilt are placed on huge stilts to survive future 25 foot storm surges that roll in off the sea. They also are angled such that their roofs will not rip off in the 100+ mph winds.

Ah, its the birds! Run...

Actually, they just wanted our crackers.

Interesting how the trees survived the hurricanes, but not the homes

One thing I found fascinating is how many empty lots and former foundations were under nice thick live oak trees. Apparently these trees are much stronger than the homes were. Maybe they should make the building codes such that homes are at least as strong as the trees on their properties.

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