Cameron, Calcasieu residents face challenges from Hurricane Ike recovery

John G. Wicke, Shields, III, Thomas H., Richard, Cynthia C., Zaunbrecher, Dusty, Schultz, Bruce  |  9/19/2008 1:19:02 AM

News Release Distributed 09/18/08

Residents of Cameron and Calcasieu parishes are still coping with the ordeal of putting their lives back together after Hurricane Ike.

People began trickling back to their homes in Cameron and Grand Chenier to see if anything remains to be cleaned up, although they are not being allowed to stay.

Cattle owners were struggling to deal with herds still in the marsh in Cameron and Calcasieu.

Gary Wicke, LSU AgCenter county agent in Cameron Parish said roughly 400 head of cattle had to be moved out after the storm. He said the number was significantly lower than for Rita because the herd had not been rebuilt to pre-Rita levels, and many had moved their cattle before Hurricane Gustav and had left them in place when Ike formed in the tropics.

Wicke said many of the cattle producers now face the chores of recovery, although Rita is still fresh on their minds.

“Most of them are just finishing their fence projects,” Wicke said. “A lot of them just bought new cattle.”

Tommy Shields, LSU AgCenter county agent in Calcasieu Parish, said the 3,000 cattle still in the marsh south of the Intracoastal Waterway near Vinton are stressed from being without fresh water and forage. Shields said Ike flooded areas that were left dry by Rita, including a spoil bank along the Intracoastal Waterway.

He said salt levels were dangerously high, as much as 16,000 parts per million in one location.

A military Chinook chopper arrived late Tuesday afternoon at the Gray Ranch and brought eight round bales of hay to several stranded bunches of cattle. The next day, more helicopters arrived to shuttle hay and water to the herds.

Kent LeDoux, manager of Gray Ranch, said cattle are fatigued from constantly wandering in search of land. “Some of them are still belly-deep in water,” he said.

He said some cattle, including two bulls, have died, and he expects mosquitoes and flies will become a serious problem.

LeDoux was amazed that the water rose Saturday night within sight of the ranch house, located just a few miles from the Sabine River. “We’re 30 miles plus from the coast,” LeDoux said.

Cattleman Ellray Henry of Holmwood had his herd high and dry, but he was helping haul cattle from Little Chenier. “We’re just helping neighbors,” Henry said.

He estimated 125 cattle were being brought out Wednesday, using horses and boats. “Most of them are in pitiful shape,” he said.

He said some cattle owners had no choice but to leave their herds to face the storm.

“Some of these people didn’t move their cattle because they didn’t have anywhere to go with them,” Henry said.

Rice farmer Randy Harrington of Holmwood figures he’ll start harvesting the last 500 acres of his rice crop in a few days after his fields dry. In the meantime, he’s doing equipment maintenance. He said before Ike, his crop yield was exceeding 50 barrels an acre. But he expects it will drop when he returns with his combine.

Harrington said it appears the rice took a beating from two directions. “Sunday’s wind must have turned around hard, and it threw a lot of it on the ground,” he said.

Kirk Smith of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) estimated that 5,000 acres of rice were still in the fields when Ike hit out of the 27,000 acres grown in Calcasieu and Cameron.

LSU AgCenter extension agent Cynthia Richard of Lake Charles said the homes in the area rebuilt since Hurricane Rita that were correctly elevated and followed the new residential building codes were still standing.

“Some had cosmetic damage,” she said. “Debris washed up to the foundation. But the foundations held.”

Mobile homes, on the other hand, that were put on the ground and not properly elevated were destroyed.

Last year, Richard sponsored a public tour of three homes building according to specifications recommended by the LSU AgCenter. All three of those homes fared well.

“We had planned another tour for Sept. 28. But we have postponed it because of the hurricanes,” Richard said.

Richard and Dusty Zaunbrecher, LSU AgCenter extension associate, went house-to-house Tuesday in areas of Lake Charles that had never flooded before to distribute LSU AgCenter information sheets that advise residents on cleaning up their flooded homes.

“People were really grateful,” Zaunbrecher said. “We’re going to more neighborhoods.”

Shrimper Charles Racca of Cameron said Rita took everything he owned. “Everything. House, boat, everything,” he said.

But this time he was ready for this storm after building his home on piers and moving his boat to Lake Charles.

He arrived in Cameron on his boat Wednesday morning and had to build a makeshift dock to get to land. Two ice houses installed after Rita were tossed aside, leaving a bare concrete pad.

Racca said ice will again be a problem for shrimpers, and it will determine how soon they are able to return to sea.

“We might have to haul shrimp somewhere else,” Racca said.

Darlene Dyson said she had just gotten things the way she wanted in her home. “I just started hanging pictures,” she said.

She had elevated her home almost 6 feet off the ground after Rita. But she got about a foot of water in her home. Soupy mud covered the parquet flooring that had buckled.

Dyson is a single mother with an autistic son, and she has already enrolled him in school in Church Point where they will live with friends until her home is back in shape. She lost everything in Rita and had to restart her shrimp business.

“After Rita I made a promise to myself that I’d help a neighbor out every day,” she said.

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Contacts: Gary Wicke at (337) 905-1318 or gwicke@agcenter.lsu.edu

Tommy Shields at (337) 475-8812 or tshields@agcenter.lsu.edu

Cynthia Richard at (337) 475-8812 or crichard@agcenter.lsu.edu

Dusty Zaunbrecher at (337) 475-8812 or dzaunbrecher@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu

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