Hurricane Special 2023: Still recovering along the coast

Published: Jul. 10, 2023 at 10:36 PM CDT
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Cameron, LA (KPLC) - When a hurricane makes landfall in Southwest Louisiana, Cameron Parish is first to feel its impact.

The coastal community takes the brunt of each storm causing destruction.

How do citizens live with limited access to basic necessities? And why they stay storm after storm.

It’s the largest parish in the bayou state with one of the smallest populations. A number that decreases each time a major hurricane hits.

Those powerful storms seem to take more and more of Cameron Parish. Now, there’s only so much left but the people who remain here make do to stay in the place they call home.

Toiletries, food, and common household items, Bayou Convenience sells the basics. Filling the gap, as big box stores are at least a 45-minute drive away.

It’s one of the handful of businesses left on the west side of the parish.

“They call us Bayou Convenience because we try to be convenient to everybody,” Joe Mae Badon said.

Native to the area, Badon, known by everyone as “Nanna Joe”, has weathered the many storms that have passed through.

“I’m still living in a camper. Many of the locals are still living in campers,” she said.

But she goes to work at the family store that serves Johnson Bayou.

Badon said it’s the beachcombers that keep them busy and the phone ringing. But for their locals, they make sure to stay well-stocked, and even make special orders.

“We try to accommodate everyone we can,” Badon said.

Necessities are not just material items like groceries. They are people. First responders are the last to leave in an evacuation and the first to return when the storm passes, and while they continue to serve the parish, they too are recovering.

“It’s hard to do that with not having stations and having to fight to get them rebuilt,” South Cameron Fire Department assistant fire chief Logan Manuel said.

We visited the Creole Volunteer Fire Department after Laura to tour the damage. The facility is nearly complete now but they’re still waiting on construction of three other stations.

“That will spread our district out where we’re able to serve those people that were never serviced before,” Manuel said.

There’s an added pressure with limited resources.

“Fire service is a necessity down here, especially not having a hospital now,” Manuel said. “We have to be able to provide for the people.”

And no hospital means a heavy burden falls on the shoulders of the parish’s ambulance service.

“As it stands right now, we are the only professional medical responders in our district,” Cameron EMS director Bryan Broussard said.

In an emergency, when every second is crucial, they must make at least a 45-minute drive to the nearest E-R.

“Not having an emergency room, it has affected our transport times,” Broussard said. “It keeps the units out of district a little longer.”

Parish officials have plans to build a new hospital, but it’s not expected to be completed until 2025. In the meantime, a temporary facility is reportedly in the works.

Another critical need that’s set to come back in 2025 is stable electricity.

“Before we bought our generator, it was horrible,” Loretta Meaux said.

Cameron Parish residents are relying on generated power, as Jeff Davis Electic repairs its Creole station and transmission lines. With a multi-million dollar price tag, residents will have to wait years for the complete overhaul.

For Loretta and Sonny Meaux, it’s a major hurdle for their seafood business and a detriment to their livelihood when the power goes out for hours.

“I’ve got hundreds of pounds of shrimp that are frozen that could melt that I could lose,” Loretta Meaux said. “I have a cooler full of crabs that at any time if the electricity goes out, I could lose thousands of dollars in seafood.”

So it’s a question the people of Cameron Parish are asked often - why do you stay?

“This is my hometown. My family is here,” Badon said.

“I wasn’t born here. I wasn’t raised here, but this is my home,” Loretta Meaux said.

“When you get marsh water in your veins, you just don’t want to leave,” Johnson Bayou Recreation director Heather Trahan said.

Signs of recovery can be seen throughout the parish. People rebuilding their homes and businesses, and wildlife and vegetation returning. A testament that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

But each year in hurricane season, residents of Cameron Parish pray they’ll make it through the long six months.

To access the KPLC Hurricane Center, CLICK HERE.