Back in bayou,
the search amid rubble begins
They went back
the only way they could - by boat. Some found very bad news. For others,
there was a glimmer of hope.
Hurricane Andrew aftermath
CHAUVIN, La. - The last time
Dudley and Marie Eschete saw their house, the roof was intact, the pecan
trees and the garden were ripe for the picking, and the road was dry
enough that they could drive up to their front door.
And all that shrimp. There had been 140 pounds of it, bagged and ready
in the freezer. But that was Tuesday, when Hurricane Andrew came to
low-lying Terrebonne Parish, rudely sent them packing and wiped out homes
Yesterday, the Eschetes and thousands of other residents along the
bayous returned to their houses for the first time since the evacuation.
And with mile upon mile of the area lying under water still, the
Eschetes went back the only way they could - by boat.
"Most of the people down here are fishermen," said Dudley
Eschete, 63, a retired carpenter, who speaks in a lilting Cajun accent.
"Can't get much closer to the gulf."
But thanks to the hurricane, the Gulf of Mexico edged much closer to
the houses built along Bayou Little Caillou, which was jammed yesterday
with a mismatched flotilla of boats, from canoe-like pirogues to 80-foot
ocean-going shrimpers, ferrying residents to what was left of their
Eschete's house was located about seven miles beyond the point where
the road was awash and a police roadblock stopped automobile traffic. A
neighbor who had seen his place the day before told him that most of it
was still there.
"At least we still have a house," said Marie Eschete.
But others whose houses were built farther down the road - closer to
the gulf where the hurricane's winds were more severe - had less hope.
"The only way to find out is to get in a boat and take a
look," said Magdalen Barbara, who was climbing aboard a 20-foot
aluminum fishing boat to inspect her house closer to the water, in
What many found was bad news. Officials said yesterday that now that
the weather had cleared, they had determined that the storm's damage in
Terrebonne Parish was more extensive than initially believed.
The hurricane wiped out hundreds of simple wood-frame houses built on
pilings, said Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, who flew over the distant reaches
of the parish yesterday.
"I looked in every direction, and I didn't see a one," said
Larpenter. "They're history."
That is exactly what Gerald Ledet discovered yesterday when he went out
by boat to inspect his 46-by-34-foot "camp," as the houses are
called in this neck of the woods.
"Everything's gone except the pilings," said Ledet.
"It's just disappeared."
Ledet, 53, a retired crab fisherman who is disabled with cirrhosis of
the liver, said he lost most of his material possessions in the storm. His
house was uninsured. He said he would live with his brother on higher
ground and live off his Social Security.
"I was just waiting to get the place fixed up to sell it," he
Ledet and other bayou residents complained that with each successive
hurricane in recent decades, the floods are getting worse. They blamed the
floods on the loss of coastal marshlands, which used to act as a buffer to
The loss of the marshlands has been well-documented: The land has been
subsiding without regular infusions of silt, which has been impounded by
flood-control projects on the Mississippi River system. The erosion of the
marshes has been accelerated by canals dug by oil companies, which want
access to their pumps along the coast.
"It's just getting eaten up down there," said Ledet.
"The water keeps coming up here, farther and farther."
Eschete sat with his wife in their aluminum boat as the outboard motor
puttered, pushing them slowly downstream toward their house - slowly, so
their wake would not overrun waterside houses.
He agreed that the flooding has become more pronounced in recent years.
In 1985, Hurricane Juan filled his house with silt - no hurricane had ever
done that before - and he was worried that Andrew would do even more
The cruise down the bayou was a water-level view of Andrew's wrath.
Each mile closer to the gulf, the evidence of wind damage increased:
car-size chunks of mobile home in the bayou, boats submerged, trees
leaning into houses and the bayou coming several feet up the walls of many
As they neared their house, power lines were down, the metal garage
doors on the shrimp-processing plant were shredded like old foil, and the
roofs on several neighbors' houses were collapsed in heaps.
But the Eschete residence was largely intact. A hackberry tree had
blown into the roof, and the shed was gone. The back yard was a bramble of
broken limbs, shingles, lumber, electrical lines, standing water and
aquatic plants. The vegetable garden was stripped bare. The mandarin tree
was upright, but most of the oranges had disappeared.
"You see your pecan tree out by the side?" Marie asked. The
tree was splintered into several parts.
"No," said Dudley, with a resigned note, and went back to his
chores. "I don't want to look."
"We got a lot of work ahead," she said.
But what about that shrimp, after 48 hours without electricity?
Inside the house, Eschete opened the packed freezer and a one-pound bag
slid out and hit the floor. With a solid clunk. Still frozen.
He hustled to hook up the 2400-watt gasoline generator he had brought
along on the boat.