Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
August 28, 1992
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 and electricity.

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 houses.

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 Cocodrie.

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 said.

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 storm surges.

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 damage.

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 houses.

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. home page   
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