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Retracing The Footsteps of Rita

Sunday, January 27, 2008

(From Wikipedia) Hurricane Rita made landfall on September 24 (2005) between Sabine Pass, Texas and Johnsons Bayou, Louisiana, as a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. It continued on through parts of southeast Texas. The storm surge caused extensive damage along the Louisiana and extreme southeastern Texas coasts and completely destroyed some coastal communities. Rita caused $11.3 billion in damage on the U.S. Gulf Coast [1] and killed seven people directly; many others died in evacuations and from indirect effects.[2]

Cameron, Louisiana

(Saturday, January 26, 2008)

As I parted ways with our good friend Michael at Starbucks in Nederland, the sun was just peeking out a little bit from behind the flannel-gray clouds and the mercury rising to about 50F. No rain in sight. Unwilling to waste as perfect a winter day as we have seen around here lately, I decided to ride over to Pleasure Island and have a look around.

Photo by: Captain David R. Byrnes, Sabine Pilots

The M.L.K. (a.k.a. the Gulfgate) Bridge linking Port Arthur to the island has a vertical clearance of only 136 feet, so it is not quite as high as the Rainbow Bridge (177 feet vertical clearance). After making my way around the Riverfront Park, I arrived at Logan Park. The fresh, menacing mega-graffiti we saw last year adorning the front wall of the public restrooms was on permanent display. Disgusted, I rode on along the South Levee Road. Passing a few focused anglers on the way and avoiding most of the hundred potholes, I hung a left at TX-82 headed west toward Walter Humphrey State Park. At this moment, curiosity overtook me as I throttled up, flying past the park, over the Causeway Bridge above the Sabine Lake, and I arrived in Louisiana!

I remember visiting Cameron, Louisiana on a weekend drive prior to the hurricane but have not since returned. Not knowing how far the distance and how long it would take me to get there, I rode on, leaving the details to be filled in later by a trip to Google Map. Many questions running through my head. Almost two years and four months after the storm, has Southwest Louisiana rebuilt? Friends who have ties and kinfolks around this area have told me about the devastations. They described the horrors and used words such as “wiped off the map”. As I surpassed Johnsons Bayou along Louisiana’s Creole Nature Trail, sceneries which confirmed those testimonies were visible everywhere. Trees stripped clean of their barks, patches of rv villages, newly built beach houses stilted 15- to 25-ft high, beached vehicles and fishing boats littered the marshes, unusually large objects washed up on beaches, and remnants of once-thriving coastal communities. The bleakness continued on, through Peveto Beach to Holly Beach and beyond. At last, I arrived at the ferry landing.

The one-ferry service was operated by a captain and his two deckhands. The fee was a dollar per vehicle paid on the returning trip; so that’s 50-cents each way. The wait was about 15 minutes and the ride a smooth one. Curious truck drivers noticed the “120mpg” sticker on my scooter and rolled down their windows to admire at its efficiency and to hear its two-stroke roars. There is never a shortage of admirations; just wondering how many of these cagers would actually follow through, convert, and become scooter-riders themselves. Maybe when it hits $5 a gallon.

Arriving in Cameron, I quickly noticed something familiar, like a long-lost friend. It was a structure, could have been a storage except the Cameron Parish Tourist Commission had one of its walls painted like a billboard withtwo leaping fish, flying geese, marshes, and a whimsical description of the town which read:

Welcome to Cameron. Don’t blink twice or you’ll miss the time of your life. A list of great things to see in Cameron. No pollution (?). No traffic light. No big city life. No city police. No trains (just boats). We do have: Louisiana Fur & Wildlife Festival, Southwest Louisiana Deep Sea & Inland Fishing Rodeo, nation’s leading shrimp producer, South’s largest shrimp cannery, oil capitol of Louisiana, fish, ducks, alligators, muskrats, nutria, birds, shrimp and deer, 2500 public-spirited citizens. Pop. 2,510 Elevation: 4 feet.–Cameron Parish Tourist Commission

The storm had peeled away some of the painting and its rich colors; but amazingly the building remained intact. The fishing boats still gathered there, too. Realizing that I was short on gas, I moved quickly into the town center, passing rows of trailer homes and rv’s before finding the first and only roadside gas station this side of Sabin Lake. Again, a small group of “admirers” gathered around the scooter, singing praises while I pumped gas. The lady at the adjacent convenient store, perched 8-foot-high above ground, said the rebuilding had taken a long time since Rita; but it’s slowly coming along, she assured me. Later, I asked her where I could get some good eats, to which she replied,”How about the “Hurricane Cafe” down the road.” I laughed and said,”Great!” But this day it was not to be for even “Hurricane” had its closing time–at 3pm; and my watch read 3:20pm.

I had no plans to venture beyond Cameron, so it was time to make the U-turn and head back before the skies darkened. On the ferry going back, the ferry captain told me that the tidal waves had lifted many fishing boats and dumped them all over the marshland. He pointed out this boat that was within a stone-throw (well, maybe if you have Roger Clemens’ pumped-up arm) and told me I could possibly get close enough to snap some pictures. The sun was setting fast, so I hastily walked along a small strip of soggy beach covered with nothing but oyster shells; fired off a few shots of the helpless boat and headed back on the road.

Passing Holly Beach again, I stopped to take some photos. Suddenly, I could hear someone hollered at me. I looked toward the direct of the rv park, and a figure by an rv waved at me to go over; so I did. Mr. Leward Abshire (of Gueydan) and his wife Brenda bought the Holly Beach RV Park after the storm and they have been in operation for just over two years. He confidently told me, while preparing a batch of fried fish for himself and a friend, that in two more years Holly Beach will be back to its former glory. I believed he was right. The overall sentiment that I was able to experience with my brief visit to this corner of Southwest Louisiana was positively echoed by the confidence of many here that they would soon rebuild their communities to the ways they once were, or even better.

Arriving just in time for the six-o’clock shift-change at the Cheniere Sabine Pass LNG plant, I merged with hundreds of returning Texas workers in a huge exodus out of Louisiana. Traffic slowed to a crawl up and down the M.L.K. Bridge so the slowness of the scooter was largely ignored by the eager yet exhausted returnees. Sure was nice to be back in Texas again!–Lorenzo

**Total distance traveled today: 156 miles. Premium fuel cost: $6.50. Very tired scooter man: 1.

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