Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Houma Indian Chair: Hurricane relief efforts Sept. 20, 2008

Julie is in the field working with FEMA and the communities hardest in the Southern LA bayou. The situation is looking bleak for health care needs. We may need to send out a mobile medical unit to ensure that people with chronic life threatening medical conditions have the care and meds they need.
The following is an update on the Hurricanes by the Chief of the United Houma Nation

State of The Nation


Messages from the Principal Chief
Brenda Dardar Robichaux
Week of 9/14 - 20/08
Outreach efforts are continuing throughout tribal communities, although some communities are still under a look and leave order. Last Sunday was spent assessing flood damage with a group of us traveling by boat down Shrimper’s Row in the Dulac community. We drove until the water was too high to go any further and then launched the boat from the side of the highway.
Shrimpers Row, a roadway along which most of our Tribal Citizens live, was covered with water. Although there was enough water on the road to run the motor, most of the time one of our group pulled the boat through the sometime waist deep muck which covered much of the area.
It was heartbreaking to see caskets that had floated from a local cemetery. A group of caring citizens towed the caskets back to the flooded highway and tied them to a tree to prevent them from floating away again.
We met a family of three paddling down the bayou. They mentioned that they had spent the storm in their home until the water had gotten too high and then had to evacuate to their grandmother’s home which was elevated. They also mentioned that there were 4 other children at her home, all under the age of eight.
At this point it became apparent that many of the people in the area were in dire need of supplies. We were able to reach the tribal vice-chair who was on his way to work. He turned around and brought us a van loaded with foods that we had packed for delivery earlier to this community but were unable to do so because the roads were flooded. We met him in our boat on the side of the highway and loaded the boat along with another boat which we found overturned in the water. After bailing out the second boat, we towed it behind us and used it in our food delivery.
The family we had met paddling down the roadway, like many others who had not evacuated for Hurricane Ike, had remained behind because they did not have the resources to go elsewhere. We made several trips down the bayou delivering supplies to all that we had found in need and left a boatload of supplies with this family, as the father was eager to deliver all that he could to his neighbors who we may have missed.
I am happy to say that we were able to give temporary employment to this young man, and he has been a wonderful asset to our recovery efforts. However, the lives of our people are complicated. With his home unlivable, he is in need of a stable environment where his children can return to school. He spent 6 hours yesterday at a FEMA office and still does not know where he and his family will live in the immediate future. Unfortunately, he is but one tribal member out of thousands who find themselves in similar situations. However, our people are resilient and somehow have managed to survive these crises in the past.
I mentioned in a recent blog that there was a man who had been rescued along with his 92 year old mother during the storm. He accompanied us on the trip and showed us the home they had evacuated. Another person on the trip declined to go into his flooded home, as it was too emotional for him to handle at the time.
Monday’s outreach efforts took us to the Grand Bois community. Grand Bois is a small town that had not flooded before but did so with Hurricane Ike. Cars and lawn mowers were parked along the highway to prevent them from flooding. Community members received supplies from the tribal bus and then took them to their home by pirogue.
We have great concerns for the citizens of Grand Bois, as there is a controversial oil field waste facility next to the town. We worry that some of this waste may have been released into the area where our people live.
Tuesday marked the opening of the Old Store Relief Center. As with hurricanes Katrina and Rita, an extensive data base of services is being kept. Food, water, baby items and cleaning supplies are some of the items provided. The staff is assisting tribal citizens with their FEMA applications and free hair cuts are being offered by a staff member who is a beautician. The Old Store Relief Center has provided assistance to approximately 80-90 families a day.
A meeting was held on Wednesday with Red Cross and FEMA in which they vowed to work collaboratively with the UHN. What a difference 3 years makes! Our previous experiences with these agencies had not been so productive.
Tribal council representatives also met with state officials on Thursday and expressed their frustration with the lack of adequate flood protection for our tribal communities.
The local school district has a large increase in the number of students who have qualified for the homeless program since the two hurricanes. They have reached out to us for assistance. A meeting of school supervisors and staff, parish government officials and community organizations was held on Friday to address these needs.
The end of the week brought us to Dulac with a group of students who assisted in removing flooded items and several inches of sludge (wet mud) out of the Dulac Community Center. Some tribal citizens are beginning to return home. Although there is no longer water in the homes, many yards remain flooded making the “gutting” process difficult. It’s heartbreaking to travel down the bayou and see all of a family’s possessions on the side of the road awaiting pickup by local parish equipment.
Tribal citizens have shared their stories of evacuating and returning to their flooded homes with us at the Old Store Relief Center and during our outreach efforts. For the first time, I am beginning to see some of our People weary. After three long years, some of their lives were just beginning to feel normal again while others were still struggling to recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
I would like to share with you a story of a wonderful family I had known for years but became close to following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They are an elderly couple who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and who live along Shrimpers Row. They had their home flooded by Hurricane Rita and now again by Hurricane Ike. I had visited with them recently when I brought a reporter from Time Magazine to interview them for a story on the Louisiana wetlands. During his interview they described their love for the land and the attachments they felt for their home and their culture. When asked about seeking Road Home funds to elevate their home, they mentioned that they felt sorry for the people in New Orleans who had lost everything and did not want to take any money that might be used to assist these families.
When they were later persuaded that they needed to file for these funds they did so and were scheduled to have their home elevated prior to the storm. However, the Road Home evaluation team found they had a faulty faucet attachment in their bathroom and denied them their funds until the problem was corrected. The elderly husband was unable to perform this task himself and the elevation of the home was cancelled.
Prior to Hurricane Gustave, they had placed all of their treasured possessions in their automobile and had evacuated the community. When they returned, they replaced everything in their home, only to be caught unprepared for the quick rising waters which occurred with Hurricane Ike. All of their precious possessions were devastated by the floodwaters which covered their home.
The amazing part of this story is the same thing we heard with flooding in New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish, Plaquemines Parish, and elsewhere. When the floodwaters begin to rise, they sometimes come up so quickly that escaping them is impossible.
Friday night, a dinner was held for Ms Marie Dean’s 92nd Birthday. A big event was planned at a KC home but was rescheduled to a restaurant because the KC home flooded.
A group of dedicated volunteers had rebuilt Taunte Marie’s home after hurricane Rita and now 3 years later hurricane Ike has left her home with 5 feet of floodwaters. At 92, she enjoys being in her own home. As I sat next to this beautiful elder her smile did not reflect the sadness I saw in her eyes. Due to the flood waters still in her yard, she has not had an opportunity to return home. I promised her that as soon as she did, we would be there to help her rebuild her home once again.
The United Houma Nation is blessed to have a dedicated tribal council and staff. Almost all of them have had damages to their homes and yet they are finding the time to assist with community outreach and to identify the needs of the people who live in their respective districts.
Days are long and it is difficult to remember what day it is or what has happened from one day to the next. The days seem to blur into one another. It is difficult enough to meet the needs of our Tribal citizens and even more difficult to write about these experiences. Although it is difficult to write this daily blog, I will continue to do so as I realize how important it is to share our stories with you. When I first began writing about our plight, it was healing as it helped me to organize my thoughts and plan my future activities. At this point it has become more difficult as the stories that need to be told are painful to describe and difficult to express with a degree of accuracy to equal their emotional significance.
I receive a large amount of calls and e-mails each day and feel obligated to return each of them, as the next one may be the call that provides needed assistance to our people or who describes someone in desperate need.
We were fortunate enough to have anticipated losing our e-mail connections and obtained a wireless attachment for our computer that has enabled us to send and receive e-mail messages. We have also had to rely on different phone connections, as two of the three services available locally have been out of order at one time or another.
I am extremely grateful to have a loyal and understanding family and friends who have stood with me throughout this ordeal and who realize that this is just the beginning of a lengthy and trying experience for us all.

1 comment:

mack said...

All the medical facilities are up and runnung in Terrebonne parish. The tribes need to have its members that are uninsured to sign up with the state's medicaid program for adults and LaChip for children.

There will be a FEMA mobile unit in Chauvin, LA on Monday, October 13 beginning at 9:00 a.m. for communitiy and tribal members to sign up for FEMA Assistance. Also there will be a team from the Dept. of Health and Hospitals to sign up residents for Medicaid and LaChip.

We have local doctors and hospitals waiting to be utlilized by the tribes and other residents. There is plenty of help available now in that parish.

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