'I guess we're going to make it:' Terrebonne's bayou communities struggle to recover

Kezia Setyawan
The Courier
William Duplantis enjoys the breeze outside on the porch sitting between the remnants of his home at Grand Caillou.

Residents of the communities on the bayous that flow south through Terrebonne Parish toward the Gulf of Mexico say help is slow to arrive and communication is spotty or nonexistent.

In communities like Chauvin, Montegut, Pointe-aux-Chenes and Dulac, thousands either stayed behind as Ida slammed ashore on Sunday as Category 4 hurricane or came back to survey the damage and begin rebuilding.

Before daybreak Wednesday, cars lined up far down La. 56, the two-lane blacktop road that runs along Bayou Little Caillou, to pick up food and gas at the Ward 7 Citizens Home and the fire station in Chauvin.

Volunteers prep Krispy Krunchy Chicken dinners to pass out to residents around Chauvin all day through Wednesday.

State Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, and other local officials helped organize and deliver supplies, including 800 gallons of gas, 1,000 fried chicken dinners and 4,000 bottles of water. It was the first organized distribution in the area since Ida decimated Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, leaving all without power and most without running water. 

HURRICANE IDA RECOVERY:Where to find help, resources in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes

“We tried to get the message out as much as we could on Facebook and Twitter. It’s the best thing you can do right now because phones aren't working,” Magee said. “We have word of mouth. Oh, yeah, it doesn’t take long for word to spread on the bayou.”

'We lost everything'

Garrett and Courtney Neil of Chauvin waited in line for chicken dinners. They drove from Texas in the middle of the night with their kids and came back to nothing.

“We’re just stuck in the car,” Neil said. “We lost everything.”

Neil said the biggest needs are access to gasoline and clean water.

Mike and Sonny Trahan stand in front of the home's blocked driveway Wednesday in Mongetut.

In Montegut, along Bayou Terrebonne, Sonny Trahan couldn’t go anywhere because a downed power line stretched across his driveway, blocking his truck.

Trahan had stayed in the home as Ida bore down and said the whirling winds sounded like a whistle.

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“We were just going to trust in God,” Trahan said. “Ours and one more were the only ones not totaled.”

A Cajun Navy rescue and aid group stopped by Wednesday to discuss how to move the power lines and provided more pallets of water and non-perishable food.

'Oh, yeah, I like Pointe-aux-Chenes'

Every day, cellphone service gets slightly better and the roads less treacherous. But navigating still requires U-turns, guessing games at impromptu four-way stops and driving over and under wires.

In Pointe-aux-Chenes, Albert Naquin sat at his gazebo with a fresh delivery of water after running out the night before. Oddly, he said, Ida knocked down so many trees and houses that he now has a view of the community's water tower.

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“It was bad, it was bad, it was bad,” said Naquin, traditional chief of the Isle de Jean Charles Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe.

“It lingered," Naquin said, referring to Ida, as if the storm was saying, “Oh, yeah, I like Pointe-aux-Chenes.”

Traditional Chief of the Isle de Jean Charles Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe Albert Naquin recounts his experience during the storm.

The Pointe-aux-Chenes supermarket is now a hub for donated items, with cars pulling in and out for free supplies.

But Naquin said there hadn’t been much local or state response. The only thing he has seen are deputies driving through and taking photos of the damage. World Central Kitchen and Second Harvest have reached out to help truck in food but have had trouble navigating 18-wheelers down La. 655, which is littered with storm debris.

“Houma was banged up pretty good. Probably so was Thibodaux. So the thing is, they’re going to take care of Houma first and Thibodaux, where basically all of the money makers live at,” Naquin said. “Down the bayou, they don’t care. It’s like with Zeta — Terrebonne Parish didn’t have much damage, but they didn’t care to visit where all the Indians lived at on Pointe-aux-Chenes or on the island."

'We will be needing support'

Lower Pointe-aux-Chenes is still not reachable by vehicle. Many members of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe live there. The tribe released a post on Facebook saying Ida destroyed or heavily damaged many members’ houses.

“We will be needing support in the clean-up, recovery and rebuilding process for our tribal communities and surrounding areas,” the statement reads. Donations for the tribe are being collected at pactribe.tripod.com.

For Native American tribes in Terrebonne and Lafourche, getting recovery money will be even harder because they have not been federally recognized, which would qualify them for various types of government support.

HOSPITALS:Hurricane Ida shuts Terrebonne's only two hospitals; makeshift facility being assembled

The condition of Isle de Jean Charles, a tiny island of mostly Native American residents in the Gulf of Mexico, was still unknown. At the far southeastern tip of Terrebonne, the community, is not protected by the parish's hurricane levee system. A years-long effort to move the community to higher ground to escape storms like Ida is underway.

William and Earline Duplantis sit Wednesday amid the remnants of their home along Bayou Grand Caillou in Dulac, three days after Hurricane Ida decimated the area.

'I guess we're going to make it'

Down Bayou Grand Caillou in Dulac, William and Earline Duplantis sat outside and soaked in the occasional cooling breeze at their elevated home, which had been reduced to what looked like a dollhouse. Ida's winds  — about 150 mph at landfall a few miles east — had stripped away one entire wall, leaving what was left inside exposed.

Earline said it looked like a bomb dropped in the area. Since the storm passed, they have feared that what's left of their home, where they've lived for 39 years, will continue to fall apart.

“The roof was wet and heavy, and we were scared that’ll keep falling,” Earline Duplantis said.

Duplantis said she and her husband have heart problems but they are grateful for their kids helping as much as they can. She said a sheriff's deputy has also checked in on them since the storm. 

“I guess we’re going to make it,” Duplantis said.

Watching Ida split a camper in half

United Houma Nation tribal member Joseph "Albert" Billiot stands Wednesday outside his storm-damaged home in Dulac.

At Shrimper’s Row in Dulac, some in the community estimate half of the residents decided to stay during the storm. Many are Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi, Chitimacha, Choctaw Band or United Houma Nation tribal members.

To donate to the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi, Chitimacha, Choctaw Band send funds to gcdbcc.org/support.

One resident, Joseph “Albert” Billiot, who was born and raised there, said Ida was the worst hurricane he has endured.

“I saw my neighbor’s camper going up and down and then split in half,” Billiot said.

As of Wednesday, he said, he hadn’t seen any local or state response nor was he expecting it. Billiot pointed toward some of the more expensive campers along Bayou Grand Caillou and said he expects that those will be taken care of sooner.

Billiot said he hasn’t been able to contact anyone with the tribe because cellphone service was down. However, he said he knew of no one who had been injured physically by the storm and is happy his cats are safe inside.

“I feel sad about what everybody’s losing,” Billiot said, “but I try to laugh so I don’t feel sad.”