CAMERON, La. — Scores of people in coastal Louisiana still live in campers on dirt mounds or next to cement slabs where their houses once stood. Unresolved insurance claims and a shortage of supply and labor are stymieing building efforts. And weather forecasters are warning of more possible devastation to come.
“We’re scared to death for this next season,” said Clarence Dyson, who is staying with his wife and four kids in a 35-foot-long (11-meter-long) camper with bunk beds while the home they had been renting in Cameron Parish undergoes repairs after Hurricane Laura.
The parish — a Louisiana designation similar to a county — is made up of small communities on the southwestern coast where residents have lived for generations, either working in the shrimp industry or, more recently, at one of the area’s liquefied natural gas plants.
The region features a stunning, peaceful landscape where families go crabbing together, birds perch on swaying strands of marsh grass, and wind-gnarled oak trees grow on the long ridges — called cheniers — that rise above the marsh. About 70% of the parish is wetlands or open water.
Last fall, however, the area was battered by hurricanes that carved a path of destruction. On Aug. 27, Category 4 Hurricane Laura rammed into the coast near the town of Cameron with maximum winds of 150 mph (241 kph). Ten weeks later, Hurricane Delta, carrying 97-mph (156-kph) winds, made landfall about 10 miles (16 kilometers) away.
Of the several communities hit, the towns of Cameron, Creole, and Grand Chenier, in Cameron Parish, took the worst beating. Laura flattened homes, nearly gutted the First Baptist church, stripped branches, and leaves, and toppled power lines.
Nine months later, the parish’s electric lines have been replaced by straight ramrod poles. Oak trees denuded of leaves and branches are started to sprout new growth. Piles of debris have been hauled away. And Booth’s Grocery Store, in business since 1957, is once again selling beer and bait.
But for most of the parish, recovery is still an ongoing process. Cement slabs and mounds of dirt still mark the place where homes used to be. The sounds synonymous with rebuilding — the whine of circular saws cutting lumber or nail guns hammering shingles — are rare.
Building contractors are in short supply; most are already slammed with work in the more densely populated, hurricane-damaged Lake Charles area farther north. Lumber prices have soared due to a trade dispute with Canada and a temporary shutdown in production when the coronavirus pandemic hit a year ago.
Leaders of the First Baptist Church in Cameron have been trying to get a contractor to come out and give them a quote to apply for a building permit. Most of the church has been gutted to the studs, with pews currently stacked in the building’s center. This is the fourth hurricane the small congregation has survived as well as one fire, said Cyndi Sellers, a longtime church member who was baptized and married there. In the meantime, the small congregation holds services in the meeting room of the parish’s governing body. They try to soften the space with plastic sunflowers and a blue cloth across the podium. A cross with a Bible verse attached to it stands on a table.