Louisiana: Recovering from the Capitalist Disaster Two Months after Hurricane Ida

By Joan Hoch

In southeastern, coastal Louisiana, the capitalist disaster following Hurricane Ida is still unfolding even two months later, but the government’s minimal relief efforts are already beginning to shut down. The people of Pointe-Aux-Chenes, a small community about 70 miles south of New Orleans, have been steadily working together over the past few months to rebuild their homes since Ida slammed into the coast on August 29 of this year. Many say that this work will be ongoing for years.

In late October, Tribune members organized a relief trip to the Point-Aux-Chenes area in order to bring vital supplies, assist residents with rebuilding, and hear their thoughts on the state of their recovery. The trip is part of ongoing plans by Tribune and activists to participate in the people’s relief efforts in the area.

Two longtime residents of Pointe-Aux-Chenes, Karen and Joe Fleming, are in the ongoing process of rebuilding their home after an event that they describe as “mentally exhausting, physically exhausting, and economically devastating.” Joe, 71, is a former truck driver who lost his part-time work driving a one-ton truck after the storm. Karen, 70, is a former accountant. They are rebuilding the house that Karen was born in and that her family has lived in for generations.

Tribune’s team spent two days working with the Flemings to remove the paneling and boards of their home so that the studs could dry, and taking the tin off of the roofs of their destroyed sheds. The Flemings are assisted by a number of friends and family members, who contribute when and where they can. Karen described how the rebuilding process has been: “We work till dark. … Even the baby [her grandson], he would pick up sticks and put them in the pile. … Every day, you have to get up your strength and your courage to go back out there and clean up.”

Even in the face of such a daunting task, the Flemings are resilient and resourceful, salvaging tin and boards to reuse on the house. “We don’t want nobody feeling sorry for us!” Joe said.

While they have learned to rely on the community, the Flemings concretely understood the State’s failed response to Ida, which shows how the ruling class is unwilling and unable to provide real relief or prepare adequately for recurring storms. Joe asserted, “Start getting campers, something for people to stay in. How many years has this been going on? You would think they would already have something set up. It wouldn’t cost them nothing.”

The state camp where meals are served.

Like many in Pointe-Aux-Chenes and the surrounding areas, they eat daily at the camp set up by the state of Louisiana in Montegut, which provides hot meals three times a day. This is a necessary service which feeds hundreds of people. Many residents have no kitchen and no time to cook, living out of RVs lent to them by friends or given out by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Others live out of tents set up inside of their destroyed homes.

This is the first time that the State has provided this kind of meal service to this area after a storm. Now, the State has announced that they intend to close the camp on November 18, only a week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, when many people gather to eat meals with family and friends. For those recovering from Ida, the timing of the closure represents another message of the government’s indifference towards the people.

Two months after the storm, Joe says, “most of the help we have is gone. It needs to stay longer, because there is people still suffering.” Members of the community are frustrated by the barriers that stand in the way of people getting what they need. Karen said, “You can only push a man so far before he fights back.”

Farther down the bayou, in the area that is home to the indigenous Pointe-au-Chien tribe, the damage is even worse. The federal, state, and parish government aren’t providing the services necessary for rebuilding to begin.

Unused RVs that have not been distributed to residents whose homes are still in disrepair.

“Even cleaning up the road, the tribal members did that. It took them eight weeks to come pick up anything,” said Patty, a tribal member. Meanwhile, over 100 RV homes procured by FEMA still sit unused behind a fence in the parking lot of the Houma Civic Center. Theresa, a member of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe, said, “We pretty much take care of ourselves. … That’s always the case.”

“The federal response, they put on a good show, and they build a bunch of stuff, but the money is not forthcoming,” said Sam Dizney, a Houma resident who has been helping people rebuild. “FEMA was here, spending a lot of money, and it was just bureaucracy, just like everything the government does.”

Read more: “After Ida, Failed by Capitalist State, Small Town Residents Rely on Each Other

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