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Cameron Parish Hit Hard by Hurricane Rita


Some of the devastation caused by Hurricane Rita is all but impossible to see by land. Roads are underwater and some hard-hit areas are deep in wildlife refuges. Red River Radio's Lizzy O'Leary toured parishes in western Louisiana by air with the National Guard.

LIZZY O'LEARY reporting:

As the Blackhawk helicopter lifts off from Lafayette, the landscape below is docile, even suburban. The Blackhawk flies over lush, green lawns and swimming pools, but they soon give way to a different sort of water; dark and still, it has flooded huge pieces of farmland near Jennings, Louisiana. Fly west and the landscape gets worse.

(Soundbite of helicopter)

O'LEARY: The Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge was once a pristine marsh. Now it's flooded with muddy water and pearly with oil slicks. But for a panorama of pure destruction, nothing is like Cameron Parish. You can see debris for miles, houses that look like piles of sticks, and the vacation community of Holly Beach just doesn't exist anymore.

(Soundbite of helicopter)

O'LEARY: We're flying over Holly Beach right now where there used to be about four streets deep of houses and they're completely gone. There are a few pilings left standing, but that's it. There are absolutely no structures here. Everything's been torn away.

There's one identifiable structure left in the town of Cameron. The water tower is still standing and you can read the blue lettering on it from the air. But everything around it has been flattened, like it was punched by a giant fist.

The Blackhawk lands here and, after the noise of the flight, the silence in Cameron is startling. There's a tractor-trailer overturned near a tree, and the only upright and functioning truck on this road is driven by men from the local power cooperative.

(Soundbite of truck)

O'LEARY: Mike Johnson is the superintendent. He says Cameron is only just getting ready to rebuild.

Mr. MIKE JOHNSON (Superintendent, Cameron): We're in a process working with the National Guard and some private contractors, getting the roads cleared, getting all the waters off, so everybody can start getting around and start assessing everything.

O'LEARY: Those National Guard troops are the most noticeable human presence here. The entire area near the parish courthouse has taken on the appearance of a military camp with trucks, generators and Humvees, all covered with mud. The Guard is helping keep people out of Cameron until it's safe to return. Almost all of the parish was evacuated and Sheriff Theos Duhon says residents keep asking when they can come back.

Sheriff THEOS DUHON (Cameron): Well, they call in every day. If my cell phone would catch a little bit more, it'd probably be ringing off the wall. I wouldn't be able to do anything. But right now we're just trying to get some phones hooked up. So we're going to give the numbers out to the people once we get the numbers and, hopefully, we can si--be right downtown Cameron and be able to talk to them.

O'LEARY: Duhon says Cameron's residents are resilient, even feisty. Not far from his muddy office is a tiny case in point: a lone, blue crab who ended up in somebody's yard and doesn't seem to want help or anything to do with a microphone.

(Soundbite of crab hitting the microphone)

O'LEARY: But the walk back to the helicopter is quickly sobering. The view of wreckage goes on and on. You can't see the end of it from the ground or even from the air. For NPR News, I'm Lizzie O'Leary.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Lizzie O'Leary