Former Louisiana Sportsman editor chronicles storm damage.
I surveyed Highway 300 that parallels Bayou Terre aux Boeufs just two weeks after the passage of Hurricane Katrina, and what I saw that day left an indelible mark that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
My favorite place in all of planet Earth — the marshes of Delacroix — looked not unlike the iconic pictures of Hiroshima at the end of World War II.
A buddy walked across Bayou Terre aux Bouefs without getting his feet wet just to show that it could be done. Marsh grass, refrigerators, walls, stairs, boats and other indiscernible debris packed the bayou and made it more land than bayou.
Just to the south, Bayou Gentilly, the main thoroughfare to the marshes of Delacroix, looked like nothing I had ever seen. Before the storm, I could have run the bayou blindfolded. I knew it better than I knew my own neighborhood.
But the post-Katrina Gentilly looked like a corn maze with no solution. Areas that should have held 16 feet of water were completely dry land.
On my second trip to the area, I actually got lost and ended up, interestingly enough, in Lost Lake. Getting turned around in Bayou Gentilly was inconceivable before the storm.
I didn’t expect to see Katrina-like destruction when I surveyed the Hopedale area yesterday (Aug. 30) in the wake of Hurricane Isaac — and I certainly didn’t — but what I saw was worse than I expected. Ray Neli, a local commercial fisherman, was kind enough to let me hop on his boat for a tour of the area, and I’m grateful to him for being an excellent host on what I’m sure was a tough day for him.
Be sure to watch the attached video.
We had a wide boat with no seating, life jackets, paddles or trolling motor, and we left the makeshift landing on Highway 46 with only two or three gallons of gas. Six of us were aboard, and the route took us through a roadside ditch and, eventually, over the flooded Florisant Highway.
We were without raincoats, and Isaac’s squalls were far from spent. The Evinrude 40 pushed us with surprising speed over the flooded terrain, stinging our skin against the relentless downpours.
After an evil version of Disney’s Jungle Cruise, we finally arrived in Bayou La Loutre to see how cruel Mother Nature is on a bad day.
There were, of course, boats scattered everywhere, some remarkably unscathed and others driven by the wind and storm surge hundreds of yards into the marsh. Neli could identify the owners of each, and made mental notes to alert his neighbors of their locations.
Many camps were knocked off their spindly pilings by the capricious winds; others appeared entirely intact.
The water was still about 6 feet above normal, so the covered boat docks all looked like they were designed by and for the Seven Dwarfs. Fitting a full-sized boat under most was an impossibility.
Bayou La Loutre was full of debris dams, comprised mostly of salt-burned Spartina, stripped from the marshes during the storm. Every patch of marsh was littered with the decaying corpses of fallen nutria. Other marsh rats that hadn’t yet gotten quite that far in their level of exhaustion tried to hold their noses above water in the open sections of the bayou. They lacked the strength to even get out of the way of the approaching boat.
We motored with ease under the camps of Capts. Charlie Thomason and Warren Dudenhefer to check on the damage. Where we ran the boat only a week earlier had been well-manicured lawns.
Johnny Schneider hopped aboard after being dropped off on the Shell Beach side of the impassable bridge over La Loutre. We took him to his wholesale seafood dock, which looked like God had whacked it with his WeedEater. It was a complete loss, and the man couldn’t mask his devastation.
He didn’t seem the type who expected — or even wanted — sympathy, but we couldn’t help feeling terribly badly for him.
We dropped Schneider off at the bridge with our pathetic words of commiseration, and took a peek at our gas tank. It was time to head back.
We took much the same route back, but the water had fallen and Neli’s prop left several permanent marks on Florisant. It was harrowing to say the least.
About 500 yards from where our trucks were parked on Highway 46, the engine sputtered. Neli ran to the tank, unscrewed the fuel hose, tilted the tank and stuck the hose directly into the remaining fuel. I held it there, and watched as the level fell visibly every second.
When we were a hundred yards away, the last of the fuel drained from the tank, and the hose sucked dry air. What was left in the carburetor, though, was apparently enough, and we coasted to the land just as the engine was dying.
Another indelible mark.
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