Last July 4th, I took a
trip down Highway 82 in Louisiana. The trip was wonderful and scenic.
Little did I know that just a couple of months later, this area would
be hit hard by Hurricane Rita. Whilst the media has been full of
stories about the effects of Hurricane Katrina and has mostly focused
on the city of New Orleans, people tend to forget about the second
hurricane and the smaller communities it impacted. The purpose
of this web page is to describe the journey along Highway 82 and to
illustrate the less reported effects of the storms.
To get down to the coast in this part of the world, one runs down to
the town of Kaplan and then takes a left onto the road, beside a large
rice mill. The road continues past various dwellings and a nasty
looking chemical plant as one progresses towards the coast. In July,
this run was spectacular and green. Of course, the weather was also
disgustingly hot. At first, the land looked much the same as it did,
although wearing the mantle of what passes for Winter in this part of
the world. Then we began to see the effects of the storm. Actually,
what we noticed first was not the effect of the wind, but rather the
result of the storm surge. As Hurricane Rita hit the coast of Louisiana
it forced salt water from the Gulf of Mexico onto the land. To put it
mildly, salt water is not very good for the vegetation.
There is a stretch of road one comes across as one heads South that is
totally straight, with water each side. In July, verdant green bushes
and small trees stretched as far as the eye could see. At various
points along this stretch of road there are wooden stands for fishing.
We stopped at one of these. We did this in July too. The one we stopped
at then smelled bad, had a bag of empty beer cans attached to it, along
some racist graffiti. This time, we choose to stop at another. The
difference, due to the storm surge, not the choice of stand, was
dramatic. This was also the first opportunity to take some photos.
Clearly, the tree to the left has seen better days. (N.B. with all
images on this page, if you click on them with your mouse, you can see
a larger version). The view behind it
is also telling. In July, the view was blocked by tall boughs of green.
Now, they are all gone.
The next picture (to the right) gives an impression of the utter
devastation to the plant life. It also shows the edge of the fishing
stand, the canal and the road.
What was once
amazingly full of green life has been transformed into utter desolation
by the salt water in the storm surge. Although these pictures are nice
enough, they totally fail to convey the massive and horrific
transformation. I really wish I had taken pictures in July, so as to be
able to illustrate the change.
It is worth remembering that in this part of the world, Vermilion
Parish, one of the main economic activities is agriculture. If you had
cattle, do you think that they could live off this vegetation? I think
The next picture, to the left, illustrates the desolate vista
along the road. You have to imagine how this used to look -- it was so
green. Now, to put it mildly, it isn't. This picture also illustrates a
feature of the way that this road was constructed. The white along the
edge is seashells. The way this road was built was by the piling up of
dredged sediments. These sediments contain many shells. It is also
worth remarking that the construction of the road is worth praise. It
clearly must have survived a lot.
In the next picture, my colleague Jon gives some scale to the vista by
standing in the middle of the road. Highway 82 was probably never the
busiest road in the world. However, given that this is the main road to
several communities, this conveys an impression of just how empty this
part of the World has become. Try this on the main road to many
communities and one's life insurance people would not be amused!
To the left is
another picture that illustrates how much damage the storm serge did.
When here in July, there were verdant bushes that were taller than most
humans. They have been scoured away by the storms. Goodness knows where
all the vegetation ended up. Now what is left looks like the kind of
place that would be appropriate as a set for filming the next Mad Max
The final two pictures taken at this location illustrate the debris
that was swept along by the water. The picture to the right shows
various bits of detris, along with a rather lost and forlorn
television. At the top of the picture, one can catch a glimpse of the
canal on the other side of the road. The dead bushes are also visible.
the most amazing thing about this area is the appearance of all the
dead plants. In the picture to the left, the grass looks like it might
have just died from lack of water. However, the proximity to the canal
water makes it clear that this is not the case. It is the deadly
effects of the salt water from the Gulf of Mexico, brought inland by
the storm that is responsible for the current situation. The tire that
can be seen in this picture may be a hurricane artifact, or it may have
been abandoned here before the storm.
Although the effects of the tempests on this stretch of road are
clearly dramatic, they did not prepare us for what we were to come
across a few miles further on. After driving a bit further, we began to
get to some of the coastal communities. Seeing what had happened there
really brought home just how powerful the effects of high winds and
high water can be.
The next place we stopped was the small community of Pecan Island. We
had also stopped there in July. Then, we managed to buy lunch in a
small grocery store.
lady who ran the store was very friendly. She said that she was
originally from the town of Deridder, but had lived down on the coast
for 30+ years and really loved it.
when we stopped this time, I was not sure that we were actually in the
same place. The pictures left and right show the remains of
building that was the store, I think. The amount of very ordinary every
day stuff spread around was dramatic. There were video tapes and a
computer alone on its side in the middle of an otherwise clear patch of
The side of the building was entirely missing. The picture to
right illustrates this. The small Christmas tree in the middle of the
picture is emblematic of the lives abruptly interrupted and changed
forever. One of the things that the pictures do not properly convey is
the distance the building had been moved. The concrete slab that the
building had originally rested upon was about twenty feet in front of
the current location of the structure.
next two pictures show the view from this location when looking
Southward towards the Gulf of Mexico. In July, this was a dense copse
of trees. We ate out lunch in the sweltering heat shaded by the tree
visible in the picture on the right. In fact, it was only due to
recognizing the shape of this tree that finally convinced me that this
really was the location of the store, so complete was the devastation
and transformation wrought by the storm. It appears that this tree is
one of the few that have survived the tempest relatively
Quite where the others have gone is a mystery.
One of the things that is a little bit tricky about a journey like the
one being described is how to document the situation, without intruding
upon the privacy of the people of the communities being passed though.
The policy adopted here was to only stop and take pictures where
not people around. A consequence of this choice is that there are
significant lacuna in the pictorial record here. However, to the left
is a picture of a damaged house that conveys an impression of the kind
of devastation that was common.
After leaving Pecan Island, there was another stretch of open road to
be negotiated as we drove towards Cameron Parish. By and large, the
road had survived the storm fairly well, but this was not always the
case. In many areas, the shoulder of the road had been entirely washed
away. Indeed, in one section, it looked as if some large animal had
taken small bites out of the road itself. In one location, the
damage top the road was sufficiently extreme that the intelligent way
to drive seemed to be straight down the middle of the road, so as to
avoid any weaknesses in the road surface.
As we approached the Cameron Parish border, there were signs that
indicated that there may be a check point and further road problems.
prepared ourselves to return the way we had come, should it prove
impossible to get through. As it happened, there was no check point and
only the occasional set of road works. Thus, we were able to
along the coast line, through the devastation towards the town of Grand
Chenier. The photo to the right shows two palm trees that had some how
survived the storm intact, along this stretch of road. The Gulf of
Mexico is not quite visible behind the trees.
When visiting Grand Chenier in July, we stopped at a gas station to buy
cold drinks and to take a pee. It was a nice little place, with
friendly, chatty people. Behind the counter, one could see the bills of
various local people. Clearly, this was a place where people trusted
Quite alot had changed. The picture to
the left shows what is left of the large sign. The view looking back
towards where the store and the pumps had been is illustrated
to the right.
Where the building had stood was just a
concrete slab, with debris. There is very little left of the pumps
either. There was also a canopy here, but goodness knows where that had
ended up. The one addition since the storm was a pair of 'portalets'.
With the facilities of the store gone, these were a welcome facility!
Of all the places on this journey, Grand Chernier appeared to be the
most devastated. What had once been the brick built Middle School is
now only a few bricks tall -- it is utterly gone. Another thing that
was quite shocking was the number of signs indicating where churches
had once stood. Although the signs had survived, the only evidence of
the churches was all too often just a concrete slab.
To the right is an image taken of the remains of a residence in Grand
Chernier. It is clear that it will not be habitable again. Yet, there
we also saw people working to rebuild. People were even living in tents
in order to get the job done.
Although this part of Louisiana lacks the name recognition of New
Orleans and is probably sufficiently far off the beaten track to
attract little media attention, hopefully these images will convey the
extent of the tragedy caused by Hurricane Rita. These people have seen
devastation as bad, or worse as the devastation that makes the news.
They deserve as much help as the next victim of the deadly storms of
As we got to where the road was blocked by debris, before the town of
Cameron we passed the town of Creole. This too was an utter mess.
However, as we followed the road as it turned North from there, there
were two more amazing sights.
One was a
boat in a canal
that ran beside the road. Now, on the
face of it, a boat in a canal is nothing too exceptional. However, what
made this boat different was the fact that it was standing vertically
upright, with the prow of the boat embedded into the bed of the canal.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to get a photo of this. The second
amazing sight was the cloudscape pictured to the right.
Let us hope that the 2006 hurricane season is kinder to Louisiana and
the Gulf coast. Also, whoever reads this, should you be able to do
anything to help the people of coastal Louisiana, where the television
cameras seldom roam, then please do what you can to help. It will be appreciated by some very wonderful people.
All text and images are copyrighted to Dr. Istvan S. N. Berkeley, 2006.
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