Bayou Gauche sees the worst of Hurricane Ike

September 17, 2008 at 8:57 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Gregory Dufrene, who has lived on Bayou Gauche island his entire life, says he hasn’t seen flooding in the area this bad since Hurricane Juan. Dufrene also says that he will never move from the island because preparing for a flood has become a way of life
Shonna Riggs/Herald Guide
Gregory Dufrene, who has lived on Bayou Gauche island his entire life, says he hasn’t seen flooding in the area this bad since Hurricane Juan. Dufrene also says that he will never move from the island because preparing for a flood has become a way of life
Belinda and Carl Simoneux have always been proud of the fact that their home is built on the highest point of Bayou Gauche island. But as the winds of Hurricane Ike pushed water onshore, the Simoneauxs watched helplessly as the waves covered the roadway and edged closer to the front door of their island home.

The family, just like their island neighbors, were forced to build a sandbag wall to keep the water from destroying their personal property and their way of life.

“In church the pastor told us to pray for all of the victims of the storm and the people who helped the victims and I burst into tears,” Belinda said. “This is the worst flooding I've ever seen.”]

The Simoneauxs hadn't planned on sandbagging their home, but as the water pushed its way over areas that are normally dry, the fort of protection was necessary. Belinda says some of her family members showed up at her home with a trailer full of sandbags, vowing that they would make sure she wouldn't lose anything.

“My sister made a huge pot of gumbo and fed everyone,” Belinda said. “It was just a time when the island residents came together and we helped each other.”
Belinda's parents decided not to stay in their home once they saw the water begin to rise.

“My parents went to their house to get clothes and food,” Belinda said. “The airboat was the easiest way to get them out and we  have to take an airboat to get to our homes now because the road is gone.”

Bayou Gauche island is home to about 200 St. Charles Parish residents and several in the close-knit community plan to stay on their island no matter what.

“I'm not going anywhere,” Gregory Dufrene, an island resident, said. “I've lived here my entire life and when the flood waters came in a television crew was out here filming and asked me will I leave and I said that I wouldn’t.”

Dufrene says it's a way of life on the bayou - to sandbag, buy a pump to push water out as it comes roaring in, and then sit and wait patiently for the waters to subside. St. Charles Parish Public Works employees  also assisted the residents of Bayou Gauche with sandbagging.

“I haven't seen the flooding this bad since Hurricane Juan in about 1998,” Dufrene said, as he stood surrounded by a sea of sand bags. “I sent my wife off the island. She's in Tennessee, but she's anxious to get home.”

Donnie White, a Paradis resident and American Red Cross Volunteer, came to the island to help as many people as he could.

“I was sent out here to do needs assessment based on Hurricane Gustav and then Hurricane Ike came ashore, so I've been out here with the people ever since,” he said. “I've volunteered with the Red Cross for five years and I've never seen flooding like this on the island.”

Most residents say they will now wait patiently to file claims with their insurance companies. 

“We may be defeated, but we're not discouraged, and when the flood goes down I'll cleanup and go back to work,” Bonnie Badeaux, one of the business owners on the island, said. “I had just made repairs on my company D and B Seafood because during Gustav I lost half the roof and Ike caused some flooding inside my business. The water is still in there.”

Badeaux says that friends and neighbors worked in shifts - sending one out for food, another out for water, and rotating as the group waited out the flood.

“We were told to mandatorily evacuate for Hurricane Gustav,” she said. “I was scared for Hurricane Ike. I looked out the window and kept watching the water get higher and higher.”
The residents say that this wasn't the only disappointing thing about the storm.

“We never saw Paul Hogan come to the island to see if we were okay,” one resident said.  “We voted him in because we wanted change and we're surprised that we never saw him once.”

Hogan says that during his travels around the district during the flood, he went to check on the island at least four times.  Hogan says he was never contacted by anyone on the island with issues or concerns that they wanted  him to address.

“I urge all residents to please call me if I can be of any assistance.” he said. “Generally, the job of a councilman in this role is a messenger.  I cannot personally get things done, but I do have a direct line to those who can.”
Hogan says he communicates those needs to parish administration.

“But if I don’t get the messages, then I can’t deliver it,” he said. “I always turn in citizens’ requests and I generally ask that the citizens call me back with a follow-up call to let me know if they have heard from someone regarding their need or that the concern was addressed.”

Hogan says the only way to really protect the island of Bayou Gauche from this type of storm surge is the construction of the Donaldsonville to the Gulf Hurricane Protection Levee.

“The levee will run from Bayou Lafourche, somewhere across the Barataria Basin toward Lafitte,  to protect residents from storm surges coming up the basin.  That is the only salvation for communities such as Bayou Gauche and other similar communities around Lake Des Allemands and within the Barataria Basin,” Hogan said.

“There continues to be huge amounts of wetlands lost every year between here and Grand Isle that makes these tidal flood events worse and worse every year.”
Hogan says this is the highest amount of water the island has ever seen and it was only because of south winds pushing water ashore from a storm that was more than 300 miles away.
“Now we have to deal with sightseers trying to look at the flooding and cleaning up after this storm,” Belinda said. “This is really the beginning for us.  It's far from over.”
Some residents also believe that agencies forgot about the islanders this time around.

“We didn't get any water or food from volunteer agencies,” Badeaux said. “For Katrina, the Red Cross brought hot food and water for us, but not this time."
Parish officials say Hurricane Ike was a different animal in terms of assistance.

“Fewer people were affected, so a fixed distribution center was not mobilized,” said St. Charles Parish spokeswoman Renee Allemand. “But we know that the people of Bayou Gauche have suffered. Resources have been available and still are, including grocery distribution by the Department of Community Services and help with food stamps in Boutte. The parish stands ready to assist.”

Allemand says residents should call the Emergency Operations Center at 985-783-5050 to get information about available assistance.

View other articles written Shonna Riggs

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