"Go down to Buras and you'll really see what Katrina did." So said another set of Tulane parents whom we met, all of us with freshmen daughters in tow, on the Jazz and Jambalaya Riverboat Cruise the University hosted for new families last Thursday night. This particular family was from Buras, much of the way down Route 23, where they are in the oyster business. (Hear that, Paul?) Their house is unlivable, so they are residing in their 65' cabin cruiser and thinking about turning down the trailer for which they've finally been approved, since the boat is quite comfortable. I had hoped, in pre-Katrina days last summer, to travel down Route 23 to the National Wildlife Refuge at the end of the finger-like pensinsula stretching southeast of New Orleans. They told me I would probably not even be able to reach Buras but that I should try if I really wanted to see what Katrina had wrought.
Saturday dawned bright and sunny and I headed south, a little nervous since I am entirely unfamilair with the area. I did, in fact, make it to Route 23 pretty much entirely by chance, but make it I did. Of the dozens and dozens of vehicles speeding down the highway, I was almost the only passenger car. Truck after truck followed the road south -- most of them going much farther than I was able to since I was, indeed, stopped and ordered to turn around at a checkpoint about 10 miles north of Buras.
The trip is a bizarre one. There are stretches of highway bordered by lovely small estates, with pastel-colored stucco homes sporting long verandas worthy of Southern Living cover photos and carefully manicured lawns. And then there are the stretches where Katrina altered everything.
Boats rammed into bayou banks, boats hurled on top of each other, boats upside down in ditches.
Buildings surrounded by fallen trees, buildings with roofs and siding ripped off, buildings crunched and sagging into twisted skeletons of their former selves.
Houses flattened, or blown off their foundations and up to the highway.
Must Move Your House.
Asbestos No Removal.
John and Lucille, 1141 [Disappeared] Lane
Rebuilding Do Not Bulldoze
Report Animal Sightings Please
The trucks that accompanied me south looked like little matchbox playthings in contrast to the sheer vastness of material that must be removed and landfilled and somehow replaced.
I was struck repeatedly by indications of how much courage and determination will be required to rebuild this area. The homes were not vacation mansions on stilts such as those built by northerners and city-dwellers along the Outer Banks in defiance of all reason and sense. These were the homes of small businesspeople and their employees, the homes of people who loved to make their lives along the Gulf. I'm sure you don't have to be someone like me who's dreamed of a life along the water to be pained by the sight of houses, docks and boats blown to bits, and the hopes and expectations of Gulf families along with them.
Paul mentioned yesterday that the osprey looks mythic. To me, he seems in this photo to be challenging us: