As one year anniversary of Hurricane Isaac approaches, some victims feel forgotten

Published: Aug. 12, 2013 at 2:53 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2013 at 3:20 AM CDT
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Harold Gourgues stands in the foyer of his home damaged by Hurricane Isaac (John Snell)
Harold Gourgues stands in the foyer of his home damaged by Hurricane Isaac (John Snell)

Braithwaite, LA-- Harold and Gwen Gourgues had experience with hurricane flooding last year, but nothing that prepared them for what Isaac threw at the east bank of Plaquemines Parish.

Their home had flooded in both Katrina and Rita, but the two feet or so of water was gone within a day.

Last year, 11 feet of water inundated their home near Scarsdale, and it remained flooded for days.

Gwen Gourgues calls the people of East Plaquemines "the forgotten few."

Like many of their neighbors, and former neighbors who lived just outside metro New Orleans' new $14 billion levees and flood walls, they feel abandoned by their government.

"It's like we we've lost it and no one cares to do anything about it," Gwen said.

The Gourgues family thought they had a little piece of heaven, an antebellum-style home on almost 20 acres.

"Sometimes, it gets to be too much," Harold said. "Sometimes, I can come down here and stay here for hours and sometimes, I drive down here and I can't stay. I gotta go. I just can't take it."

The state has set aside another $8 million for Plaquemines Parish's recovery efforts, not enough to buy everyone out, nor enough to raise everyone's home.

Parish President Billy Nungesser said the parish opted to use the money for elevations.

Harold Gourgues got an estimate of $297,000 to raise his 4,000 square foot house. However, that would take the elevation from 3 to 13 feet. He is not sure of the price for meeting the standard, calling for 21 feet of elevation.

"When we bought this house in 1985, we didn't buy waterfront property," Harold said. "We didn't buy something that had to be 21 feet in the air."

Like much of the coastal Louisiana, the loss of wetlands has taken some of the natural barriers from the Braithwaite community.

During Isaac, the levee behind much of East Plaquemines was a speed bump.

Nungesser said the parish is in the process of raising the levee to 12 feet, building it to the federal standards.

He hopes Congress can be convinced later to make it part of the federal levee system, theoretically qualifying Plaquemines for funding to raise it a few more feet.

"I think if can get three, four, five years without a major storm and (people) see that levee being built and us making that attempt to get it in the federal system, I think you'll see this community come back, Nungesser said. "It's not going to be a quick fix."