22 September 2008

Houma stories illuminate long-standing and urgent needs after Gustav and Ike

Unfortunately, what remains of media coverage of the most recent Gulf Coast storms, continues to focus on urban areas hit by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, with little attention paid to rural, low-lying coastal communities. Brenda Dardar Robichaux, Principal Chief of the United Houma Nation, reminds us that more than two weeks out, Houma parishes in southern Louisiana continue to face the impact of both storms. Little known to the outside world, the destruction wrought by Gustav in Houma communities was compounded by massive flooding from Ike--reportedly worse for some than it had been due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. What's more, these storms came as people were still struggling to recover from Katrina and Rita. Brenda Robichaux shares an example of this below:
I would like to share with you a story of a wonderful family I had known for years but became close to following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They are an elderly couple who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and who live along Shrimpers Row. They had their home flooded by Hurricane Rita and now again by Hurricane Ike. I had visited with them recently when I brought a reporter from Time Magazine to interview them for a story on the Louisiana wetlands. During his interview they described their love for the land and the attachments they felt for their home and their culture. When asked about seeking Road Home funds to elevate their home, they mentioned that they felt sorry for the people in New Orleans who had lost everything and did not want to take any money that might be used to assist these families.

When they were later persuaded that they needed to file for these funds they did so and were scheduled to have their home elevated prior to the storm. However, the Road Home evaluation team found they had a faulty faucet attachment in their bathroom and denied them their funds until the problem was corrected. The elderly husband was unable to perform this task himself and the elevation of the home was cancelled.

Prior to Hurricane Gustave, they had placed all of their treasured possessions in their automobile and had evacuated the community. When they returned, they replaced everything in their home, only to be caught unprepared for the quick rising waters which occurred with Hurricane Ike. All of their precious possessions were devastated by the floodwaters which covered their home.

The amazing part of this story is the same thing we heard with flooding in New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish, Plaquemines Parish, and elsewhere. When the floodwaters begin to rise, they sometimes come up so quickly that escaping them is impossible.

...It is difficult enough to meet the needs of our Tribal citizens and even more difficult to write about these experiences. Although it is difficult to write this daily blog, I will continue to do so as I realize how important it is to share our stories with you. When I first began writing about our plight, it was healing as it helped me to organize my thoughts and plan my future activities. At this point it has become more difficult as the stories that need to be told are painful to describe and difficult to express with a degree of accuracy to equal their emotional significance.

...I am extremely grateful to have a loyal and understanding family and friends who have stood with me throughout this ordeal and who realize that this is just the beginning of a lengthy and trying experience for us all.
Robichaux's blog remains one of the only sources of on-the-ground, up-to-date information about the urgent and long-standing needs of people in the Gulf Coast--particularly those whose priorities remain the most invisible: low-income people and people of color, in this case from primarily Indigenous, rural communities that bear the brunt of federal and state government failures to address key underlying issues like coastal erosion and poverty.

We will continue to share Brenda's stories and insight into the urgent and long-term needs of the Houma Nation--we hope that you will spread them far and wide as well.

Again, you can support the United Houma Nation and its Relief Center, which they were finally able to set up last week, through its web site. You can also make a gift to the Ms. Foundation for Women's Katrina Women's Response Fund, which provides immediate and long-term strategic grantmaking, communications, and capacity-building support to the United Houma Nation and other organizations and communities impacted by Gustav and Ike, as well as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

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