[StBernard] St. Bernard on the mend after Katrina

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon Jul 28 09:05:14 EDT 2008

St. Bernard on the mend after Katrina
Full recovery slow in coming
Advocate New Orleans bureau
Published: Jul 27, 2008 - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.
Comments (7)
'They didn't expect me to live," 73-year-old Douglas "Duddy" Couture says of
the doctors who put five stints in his heart in July 2005 - the month before
Hurricane Katrina.

Aided by "angels" in north Louisiana, the ailing fisherman and his wife,
Sharon, survived three subsequent years of storm-related evacuation,
recovery and reconstruction of their bayou home in St. Bernard Parish.

But now, after all that, they recently moved to Picayune, Miss.

"We're out because Duddy's health is the main thing," Sharon Couture said.

Dr. Cathi Fontenot, interim CEO of the LSU-run Medical Center of Louisiana
at New Orleans, sums up post-Katrina health care in the metro area with a
medical metaphor: "We're off life support but we're still in ICU."

Almost three years after Katrina, amid signs the depopulated parish is
rebounding, there is still no hospital to replace the flood-ruined Chalmette
Medical Center.

Hospitals in neighboring New Orleans and St. Tammany Parish are either too
far away or overwhelmed with patients, residents and officials say.

"If you had a heart attack, it would take you 30 minutes to get to a
hospital from here - if you had an ambulance already outside," Chalmette
High School Principal Wayne Warner said.

That may soon change.

The parish has committed $25 million toward a new hospital, according to
newly elected Parish President Craig Taffaro. Members of a hospital service
district created after the storm will meet this week in an old FEMA trailer
to announce bid specifications for the community hospital, parish officials

But the shortage of physicians and medical care remains dire, by most
accounts. The hospital issue proved critical for the Coutures.
They say their new home in Picayune is a 35-minute drive from a hospital in
Gulfport. It took almost twice that long from their old home in Yscloskey to
hospitals in the New Orleans area.

During Katrina, all but five of the 27,000 structures in the parish were
destroyed by the storm surge and by flood waters unleashed by broken levees.
The storm killed more than 100 people, who are memorialized at Shell Beach.

About 64,700 people lived in St. Bernard Parish before Katrina hit,
according the U.S. Census. Taffaro estimates 35,000 to 37,000 have returned.

Whole neighborhoods remain boarded up around Chalmette, but businesses are
returning on the major arteries of Judge Perez Drive, St. Bernard Highway
and Paris Road.

Rocky & Carlo's, a well-known restaurant in Chalmette, seems to be thriving.
Groundbreaking for a $5 million fire station took place in Arabi on Friday,
and a post office is slated to open there later this summer.

Reconstruction of the Parish Governmental Complex is scheduled for
completion in November. A newly elected parish government now meets in a
recently renovated Parish Council chambers, amid obviously better relations
with FEMA, officials say.

Communication can be problematic. For example, locals advise Internet users
to seek out the wireless service at a library-trailer - or after hours, in
the parking lot.

Many churches have not reopened, officials admit, though the need remains.

At rededication ceremonies for the reopened council chambers, black and
white clergy members advocated racial and political unity. The appeal
followed a well-publicized "blood-relative-only" rental ordinance in the
majority-white parish, a measure that has been rescinded.

A family's experience
On a hot July morning, three generations of Coutures mingle with busy
workers under the shade of a crab shack along Bayou La Loutre near the
Yscloskey bridge.

Across the narrow road leading to the fishing mecca at nearby Shell Beach, a
small store - Duddy's Quick Stop - still bears the name of the family

Duddy and Sharon Couture recall how, as Katrina approached, they fled north
with their 50 animals - a dog, six cats and a flock of breeding birds
(parrots, cockatoos, macaws and love birds). They gave them all up for
adoption in the long aftermath of the storm.

During the evacuation, in a rural parking lot far from home, Duddy Couture's
health seemed to worsen. Passersby noticed and gave the displaced couple
lodgings for a month.

"That was the turning point," said his wife, now 48. "We found two 'angels'
in Minden."

In October 2005 they returned to flood-ruined Yscloskey. Most of the 600 or
so families in the close-knit fishing village lost their homes or boats, or
both. The bridge over the bayou was out of commission.

The Coutures proudly recalled that their little store was the first business
in Yscloskey to reopen, providing the decimated fishing industry with
essential ice and bait.

But the crippled parish government was slow to help, residents say. And the
characteristic grit and self-reliance of the outdoorsy residents did not
always suffice.

Money ran out. Anxious neighbors demanded credit terms that did not exist
before the storm, Duddy Couture recalls.

Today, all but two dozen or so commercial fishing families in Yscloskey have
left, residents said. Only visiting sports fishermen have returned in large

The state-maintained lift bridge reopened a month ago but is in service only
18 hours daily, Duddy Couture said. He said the government needs to clean
out a mile of ditches along residential Citrus Avenue. Construction of a
large ice house would help the fishing economy, he said.

His wife's daughter, Pheebe Squires, sees progress.

"It's starting to come back - it really is," said Squires, the wife of a
crabber, mother of three and a breast cancer survivor.

The future of the village lies in sports fishing, Squires said as crabbers
dumped snapping blue crabs on a table in the shack.

Meanwhile, the toughness of residents is evident in recollections of

Squires, for example, recalls how she resumed chemotherapy treatments the
month before Katrina, losing up to 170 pounds as he and her family fled the
storm and then Hurricane Rita the next month. They relocated to Florida -
where Hurricane Wilma destroyed their trailer that October.

As she watches the bridge rise for a fishing boat, she confidently predicts
the town's revival. "It'll come back," she said.

Life still hard
Inside Duddy's Quick Stop, workers line up for sandwiches at lunch hour.

"It's hard on the elderly people here," said Raymond Krennerich, 45, whose
85-year-old ailing uncle lives in Kenilworth, further west in St. Bernard.

Krennerich said the two stayed in Baton Rouge after Katrina, then moved to
Marksville for eight months.

"We came back 20 months after the storm," he said. "We came home to empty
lots. Half of the people lost their homes and boats - all in one day."

His uncle's health is his biggest concern. The hospitals in neighboring New
Orleans are often overwhelmed, he said.

"It don't pay to go up there because they are so packed and they'll send you
to Slidell Memorial, anyway," he said.

Cashier Brittany Naquin, 19, suggested several ways the parish could hold on
to its young people.

"We need a clothing store," said Naquin, a 2007 graduate of Chalmette High,
the only one of four high schools to reopen since Katrina. "The nearest good
clothing store is in Slidell."

The Super Wal-Mart and the K-Mart in Chalmette remain closed.

"Me and my parents are still living in a camper-trailer," Naquin said.

A $10,000 down payment for a house is out of reach for a lot of people since
the storm, she said, adding: "We didn't get any help from FEMA."

Naquin has mixed feelings about the future of the parish.

"I'd say that it's bright, if they bring back businesses," she said.

Naquin said she is considering enrolling in Nunez Community College in
Chalmette to study to be an X-ray technician.

Among the goals of the two-year college is meeting the high demand for
nurses and other medical professionals in the state. But Nunez is still
rebuilding from the storm, and higher education officials throughout the
area say they are having a hard time attracting and retaining faculty.

Some teens bemoan the lack of recreation in St. Bernard Parish.

"There ain't nothing here but a little store and a crab dock," 14-year-old
Brandon Chustz, a native of Port Allen, said sourly.

He said he moved to Yscloskey last summer because of his father's work.
Aside from swimming in the bayou, there's little to do, Chustz said.

"We need a grocery store down here," said Justin Jones, a freckled
17-year-old who has lived in Yscloskey most of his life.

"Dude - we need a MALL," Chustz retorted.

At the same time, the national economic downturn has brought some people to
St. Bernard despite the post-Katrina lack of amenities.

Chris Coletta, dock supervisor for Deno's Fishing in Yscloskey, looks over
the crab-trap buoys his workers have painted pink. The distinctive buoys are
used to mark Deno's traps.

"Nobody else around here uses pink," he said.

A native of Naples, Fla., Coletta said he refused to evacuate his hometown
for hurricanes Andrew, Katrina or Wilma. But the lack of jobs in Florida
propelled him to tiny Yscloskey several weeks ago.

"Deno's my brother-in-law," Coletta said. "I came here to help, best I can.
Nothing's going on in Florida - things are bad there."

But time is an implacable foe for Duddy and Sharon Couture. They say they
will leave the future of St. Bernard Parish to younger family members in

"We got a lot of people in Picayune from home," Duddy Couture said. "They
want to come back, but age is against them."

Find this article at:

More information about the StBernard mailing list