Storms, Mud, and no Jobs: What’s Next?
Natalie Bergeron, a lifelong bayou resident, has been delivering mail down in Cocodrie, Louisiana, for 30 years. She knows just about everybody in the water-logged town, which was battered by wind from Hurricane Gustav and then swamped by the storm surge from Hurricane Ike. And what she knows about them—and plenty of others along the road from Bourg through Chauvin and into Cocodrie—is worrying her.
“Not only do we have poor people trying to live, we’ve lost four factories in Chauvin. One was a huge shrimp processing factory. Gustav tore it apart,” she said over the phone as she ate her lunch. It was 2 p.m., and the first occasion she’d found that day for a meal break. Things have been busy at Bayou Grace, the community services organization in Chauvin where Bergeron works, since the storms swept through, knocking out water and power supplies. Bayou Grace is one of the local organizations Oxfam America partners with.
Bergeron tallied up the other hits local employment has taken since Labor Day: All told, she estimated the storms wiped out about 300 jobs—on boats, docks, and in factories—and those were just the ones she knew about in Chauvin.
“People are kind of numb right now, and not sure what to do next,” said Bergeron.
That’s the big question: What next? Do people stay? Do they go?
“They would love to move away,” said Bergeron, but they’re afraid they wouldn’t be able to get very much money for their low-lying lots—not the amount developers can command when they buy them up and sell them off again. And no one’s received enough money from Louisiana’s Road Home plan—the state’s housing recovery program—to afford a relocation, she added.
“They are literally stuck,” said Bergeron.
So, storm after storm, the folks of Cocodrie and Chauvin do what they can: They muck out their homes and move back in. But how much longer they can keep that up is unclear. Ike shoved water all the way from the Gulf of Mexico right up into Bergeron’s street in Bourg, one of the highest points on the bayou. Never in the 15 years she has lived there has her street flooded.
“For us to get water like that is scary,” said Bergeron, adding that patience has done little to assuage anyone’s fears. “We keep waiting for the federal government to protect us—if they would just rebuild the barrier islands to be a storm buffer. But all we hear is study, study, study—and they do nothing.”