Rita One Year Later: Riding the Trail of Recovery

August 23, 2006
Reported By: Lee Peck

Although she didn't claim any lives, Hurricane Rita devastated Southwest Louisiana's Gulf coast... taking with her homes, businesses, wetlands and cattle. Cameron Parish alone lost more than 30,000 head of cattle.

Now one year later, the people of Cameron Parish have started to return home, as well as the cows. 40 head of cattle made it's way through the streets of Cameron. Steering this trail of recovery is America's Wetland Foundation along with state and local officials. All saddled up to remember the loss from Hurricane Rita, but to also recognize the tremendous progress made during the last 12 months.

"We've got a spirit that you can't keep down because we are coming back! Absolutely coming back," said Governor Kathleen Blanco.

"We have the right stuff here in Louisiana. We know how to respond and we know how to recover and all we need to be given is the opportunity to do that," said Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach. "And that's what we celebrate here this morning is opportunity."

What a difference a year makes. Despite losing everything, Cameron residents are determined to get back in the saddle.

"We lost it all," said Grand Chenier resident David Richard, "but we're going to rebuild. Cameron Parish and Grand Chenier is a unique place. It's a unique mix of people, resources and lots of fun."

"I couldn't see living anywhere else," said Cameron resident Juanita Savoie. "It's the people. The people is friendly and it's home... It's home."

A home and community they say is worth rebuilding. However, residents say they can't do it alone. They're calling on Washington to step up.

"This is not a forgotten place. I know a lot of people think we are overshadowed by Katrina, but in terms of the federal and state dollars everybody is well aware of Cameron and Calcasieu's challenges and all the other parishes along the Gulf coast and we're committed to getting this place back up and operating," said Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu.

"I can't tell you how many people come up to me with tears in their eyes. One just happened... and say, 'Senator I'm in a trailer. I want to rebuild my house, but I can't afford my insurance. So what should I do?' This is a real problem that the government needs to fix and we need to get about fixing it," said U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu.

"The next step at the federal level is some important legislation like royalty sharing and revenue sharing. So we get our fair share of offshore oil and gas revenue to build a higher hurricane protection system for the coastal restoration that we need in Southwest Louisiana," said U.S. Senator David Vitter.

"I apologize that it took the federal government so long to give us enough money to do what we need to do. There were a lot of people in Congress who didn't want us to get help," said Gov. Blanco. "But I would just would not accept that. I would not accept no for an answer. And I just went over there and I told them I know you don't like to see me anymore, but I'm going to keep coming back until you do what you're supposed to do and take care of my people!"

So as they wait on promises, the people of Cameron enjoy their culture, their music and their way of life -- a way of life not even a storm named Rita can destroy.

Also marking Hurricane Rita's one year anniversary, were the Kentucky Cattlemen's Association. They donated 17 bulls to Louisiana. Six of those, went to Cameron and lower Calcasieu, while the others were delivered to Vermillion and Plaquemines Parish.