Plaquemines Parish: No Choice but to Rebuild by Chris Sheard and Mike Agresta
One resident’s efforts to bring his family back to the parish where he was born and raised

Plaquemines Parish is the last frontier of Hurricane Katrina relief. On June 1, 2006, nine full months after Katrina first made landfall in Buras, Emergency Communities opened the first reliable source of hot meals for residents of the lower, more rural half of this devastated parish. Over the past month in Buras, we’ve tried to replicate the model of the Made with Love Café, offering good, nutritious food, a sympathetic ear, and logistical support to residents as they return and rebuild.

Robert LeBlanc is a typical patron of the “Y Diner”, as locals now refer to our kitchen site in a gutted YMCA building. Mr. LeBlanc is a local small landowner, born and raised in Plaquemines Parish, who lost everything in the storm and is now trying to salvage any value from the investments on which he built his life. The water rose to twenty-three feet on his property, he says, based on the water line in his attic. He evacuated to Chattanooga and eventually found a place for his wife and children to stay near Belle Chasse, Louisiana. Now he lives alone in a FEMA trailer on his property, working every day to rebuild until he can bring his family home.

Talking to Mr. LeBlanc, we found him consumed by the logistical difficulties of bouncing back from the storm. “They collect all the money,” he said of his insurance company. “They live rich and they don’t give ya nothing. Nothing. I got $12,000 for the whole loss of my house. And the other house I bought for my dad, I collected $23,000 for it. It was worth $400,000 between the two properties. I got about $30,000.”

Seeing his assets shrink by more than ninety percent, Mr. LeBlanc must now seek new ways to provide for himself and his family. Even though he ran a small roofing business before the storm, he has had little luck finding work with government reconstruction subcontractors. “They’re hiring all out of state people, trying to monopolize the money. I came here with 5 dump trucks, a side loader, an excavator and got turned down,” he says. “I probably could have went right after everybody left and got in, but I hadn’t started my side business yet. I had lost my truck. Now I make about a dollar a week. That’s on a good week. How much money I made this week? Nothing.”

The “Y Diner” has made a real impact on Mr. LeBlanc’s rebuilding process. Before Emergency Communities set up in Buras, Mr. LeBlanc had briefly run out of money and had to go back to work closer to New Orleans, putting his personal rebuilding needs on hold. Now that he can rely on the Y Diner for delicious, healthy, and free food, he applies all of his energy to preparing his house for his children’s return. Now that summer vacation has arrived, his children often come down to spend the day in Buras, passing the hottest part of the afternoon indoors in our Kids Space. “The kids love it here,” Mr. LeBlanc says.

Despite his frustration with the logistics of recovery, he does see one way to return to financial stability: rebuild. “My savings were gone almost three months after the storm,” he told us. “I got a check here or there for a thousand, two thousand. There’s still a mortgage out on my house so they wouldn’t give me my check. They said ‘we’re gonna keep this and when you rebuild or buy a new house we’ll refinance it, then you’ll get your money.’”

Small landowners like Mr. LeBlanc have no options besides rebuilding lower Plaquemines Parish. Emergency Communities is proud to support him and his neighbors as they work through the summer heat to bring their community back. Mr. LeBlanc even extends the invitation to EC supporters who have never lived in Plaquemines Parish. “Ya’ll listening up in New York? Might still be for sale!” he says, speaking of the property he’d bought for his father. “I’m gonna buy me ten tents. Build me a condo tent. With a game room!” Interested buyers are referred to www.emergencycommunities.org/help.htm

 

Click the links below to view previous news articles:

The Future of an Emergency by Mark Weiner
New “Hope” for St. Bernard Parish by Jason Burwen

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2006 Emergency Communities
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