Holly Beach: Ten years after Rita

Holly Beach: Ten years after Rita
(Source: Kelley O'Neil Roberts)
(Source: Kelley O'Neil Roberts)
(Source: Kelley O'Neil Roberts)
(Source: Kelley O'Neil Roberts)
(Source: Shonie Brown)
(Source: Shonie Brown)
(Source: Shonie Brown)
(Source: Shonie Brown)

CAMERON PARISH, LA (KPLC) - Hurricane Rita came as a surprise to many 10 years ago. Many of those who lived along Holly Beach never thought their homes would be the target of destruction — until it was time to evacuate.

Just 10 years ago, rows of homes lined each of the five streets that make up Holly Beach.

"It's so much different. There was a house on every corner. There was a house on every block. There was bars, restaurants; there's nothing now," said Holly Beach resident, Carolyn "Cacky" Hampton.

Hampton is one of those residents who lived in a home along the beach before Rita destroyed it. Hampton purchased a lot and built a home about four months before the storm came.

"2005, I bought my camp — Memorial Day weekend. I raised it July 7th and they evacuated us and Rita ate it. And I came back, I bought me a slab;that's where the camps are. We bought us a camper and we proceeded to rebuild. It took a little while but we made it," said Hampton.

She came back months after Rita to rebuild and ended up purchasing 12 more lots in the area, eventually dedicating the next 10 years to building camps to rent out.

"I own three camps down here; we're the Hamptons of Holly Beach now," she said.

The "Hamptons of Holly Beach" rent out the Skittles-colored homes on Heron Street. It's all in an effort to bring more people down this way.

"It doesn't look like a whole lot now but I'm telling you, they're coming back. Every time you come down here, you'll see another dwelling," Hampton said.

According to the 2000 Census, 892 residents resided in the district that makes up Holly Beach, Johnson Bayou and Hackberry. According to the Cameron Parish Police Jury, roughly 25 percent of that makes up Holly Beach residents. That would mean roughly 223 residents lived at Holly Beach before Rita wiped out the area. According to the 2010 census, 288 residents live within this district, which means just around 72 people live on Holly Beach now.

Among those who didn't come back is Kenneth Kellum. 2413 Mallard Street was the address of Kellum's childhood home.

"It was a tan house, vinyl siding house. It was a three bedroom home," Kellum said.

His home was wiped away by Rita.

"I remember coming back. They had a shed right here and they still had stuff in the shed that would have been in there, sitting on the ground but the whole shed was gone. It was crazy," he said.

Memories are all he has of his childhood home. Kellum's home wasn't insured and after Rita, his family chose not to rebuild.

"They didn't want to come back and it wasn't insured. They didn't want to go through it again and they pretty much bought some land after FEMA and Rhodes Homes helped them out. They bought some place up in Hackberry, just to be better organized, I guess [the] next time it would happen," Kellum explained.

The Holly Beach Kellum sees now is in stark contrast to what the beach was like when he was growing up.

"All the people coming all the time. It was crazy during the summer. Partying on the beach, hanging out with people, cooking all the time and mostly hanging out," he said.

Even though he doesn't call the shore home anymore, he finds himself coming back with his family.

"We're always out here for Labor Day, Memorial Weekend. The big weekends," Kellum said.

When asked what kept drawing him back, he said, "It's just childhood memories I guess."

As for Hampton, she's decided to continue calling Holly Beach home simply for the same reason she decided to move there in 2005.

"Just to see that in the morning times is just overwhelming. The sunsets are beautiful. The sunrises are beautiful. the water's good; when it's good, it's good. And when it's not good, you can still catch a redfish," she said.

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