By David Martinez
In the week after Hurricane Ida, the people of the rural towns of southeastern Louisiana have been coming together to aid each other in recovery after another failed response by the capitalist state. In small towns like Houma and throughout coastal communities such as Chauvin, Pointe-aux-Chenes, and Montegut, residents who spoke with Tribune in the days following Ida said that they were left to fend for themselves and the most substantial help they have received has been from their own family, friends, and neighbors. Many residents reported there has only been token presence of government or non-governmental aid agencies conducting relief work.
Angela, a woman who lived near Chauvin, described the coastal area hit by Ida as “the backbone of Louisiana” for its economic importance. Some residents contrasted this with the fact that the working class people who produce the wealth in the region were abandoned by the capitalist government prior to and after the storm.
“They just ignore [this region] to an extent.” Angela said, “The people are forgotten…it seems to me that the government could do more to help the people that give em…that money. We break our backs for that.”
Louisiana contains 17 oil refineries, accounting for one-fifth of the US’s crude oil refining capacity. Nearly all of these refineries are in the coastal region, along with many natural gas production facilities. Additionally, the southeastern part of the state has a robust fishing sector which includes shrimping, crabs, and crawfish. Workers on the coast are heavily employed in these industries, and residents expressed pride in the work they do.
Tyler, from Point-aux-Chenes, works for a company that builds parts for refineries, and spoke with Tribune on September 3. His parents’ trailer and everything inside of it were mangled by two tornados generated near the eye of the storm—by then a large pile of rubble. As he maintained watch in the lot where his family’s home and part of their collision repair shop once stood, he asked, “My question is, where are the disaster people? Where are the people who are supposed to help us through this? Are they more concerned with the big cities? What about us, what about our little towns?”
Tribune spoke with Rennette, a resident of Houma, as her car idled in a long line of vehicles outside the Houma Civic Center waiting for gas and supplies five days after Ida.
“People have lost everything, and there is no assistance,” Rennette said. Despite the appearance of some aid, she recounted how one neighbor with five children, one of them a baby, was unable to obtain diapers. Lack of critical items like this were common at official relief posts, although bottled water and food was generally available.
Rennette was now staying in a tent in her front yard. Rain was coming through the shattered roof of her trailer, making it uninhabitable. On top of this, she and other residents were now facing threats of eviction by their landlord just days after the storm. The landlord “told everybody if they don’t pay their rent by the 5th, they’re getting kicked out.”
Rennette was defiant despite the threats. “Give us water and lights,” she said, “I’ll pay my rent. You know. Level my trailer, I’ll pay my rent…people have nothing! How you going to ask them for money right now?”
In Point-aux-Chenes, the energy and level of collaboration between community members was notable. The general store was operating as a community hub, and its owner, Donna, was baking fresh bread to distribute to residents. According to residents (confirmed through visual observations by Tribune reporters) the vast majority of homes in Point-aux-Chenes are currently uninhabitable and half are damaged beyond repair. Unlike the larger town of Houma, there were no electrical workers present in Point-aux-Chenes at the time Tribune was on the ground.
Along HWY 55 near Klondyke, a homeowner named Kim, whose friends were helping repair her roof, said Tribune was the first media she had seen in the area. She was frustrated at the lack of media coverage considering that the coastal communities bore the brunt of Ida.
“We haven’t seen any officials, local, state, anything here.” Kim said. She felt that politicians in the area have less financial incentive to help the people of the community, who are mostly working class and poor.
Nearly every person who spoke with Tribune agreed that this storm was the worst they had ever lived through. While they had varied ideas on what it would take to solve the problems associated with the recurring extreme storms, almost all agreed that the preparation and response by the government was a complete failure. The current unnatural disaster only further validated the overriding distrust for the government among the people of the area.
Residents like Rennette, the resident facing eviction in Houma, saw through the ruling class’s attempts to manipulate the people through meaningless elections, “I’ve never voted,” she said, “because all of [the politicians] is who is telling the best lie, selling the best lie.”
The people of southeastern Louisiana had a sober assessment of their situation, understanding it would take great efforts to rebuild. Some said they expected that some evacuees would never return, however, many expressed their intentions to stay in the area for the work opportunities and their roots in the community. The region is defined by the resilience of its people who struggle in the face of the failures of the state and capitalist ruling class that preys on them.
Rennette spoke on the collective spirit of working people who, even while facing extreme hardship, gave what they could: “I’m gonna say this about poor people, they’ll share their last piece of bread with you. A rich person will store that loaf of bread, just in case they might be hungry later on and let it rot, than to share it.”
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