Monday, September 15, 2008

United Houma Nation communities bear brunt of Gustav

By Terri Hansen, Today correspondent

Chitimacha Chief Lonnie Martin said Sept. 3 that some power to the reservation was returning, and most of the residents who evacuated had returned. “A lot of trees are down and there are some roofs damaged but, thankfully, no flooding,” Martin said. The BIA provided federal relief with bottled water and “meals ready to eat,” or MREs, “which our police officers are distributing to the residents as we speak.”

Martin said the Houma tribal communities in Terrebonne received the brunt of the storm with high winds, tornado activity and flooding. Hurricane Gustav has been declared a “major disaster,” meaning those residents are eligible for federal funding for housing and recovery through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

That funding could include money for home repair, temporary housing and other recovery costs, although it was reported after hurricanes Katrina and Rita that they had difficulties accessing those funds.

Houma Principal Chief Brenda Dardar Robichaux blogged Sept. 3 that they were without power, but a generator enabled their communication by Internet.

Robichaux traveled to every Houma community that was accessible by car, reporting extensive damage with power lines and trees down. The most extensive damages were to the community of Dulac, where, she wrote, “we witnessed everything from minor wind damage to total loss of use, with most homes in need of major repairs.”

“It is unknown when the people will be allowed back home. The unavailability of re-entry causes a financial burden, which has great cause for concern – compared to an unplanned vacation with lodging, gas and eating expenses. It’s heartbreaking to see the Houma Nation community going through this again just three years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.” Immediately after those storms hit, the Houmas’ situation was dreadful enough that the National Congress of American Indians rented a plane to fly local leaders over their communities ... and what they saw was nothing. At the time, Robichaux said, “people’s homes looked like they never existed; their homes were simply gone. They are all fishermen, and their boats were ashore, somewhere inland.”

The United Houma Nation Relief Fund, set up after Katrina, is still active. To donate, visit

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gustav hits Louisiana tribes

By Terri Hansen
Environment and Science Writer
Indian Country Today

Gulf Coast, La. - The eye of Hurricane Gustav slammed into Morgan City on the Louisiana Gulf coast about 30 miles southeast from Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana just after noon yesterday, causing heavy damage. The center of the storm then moved northwest directly into the Chitimacha Reservation at near 15 mph, with top winds of 105 mph. Damages to the reservation in Chareton, St. Mary Parish, have not been reported but early Monday morning power outages were reported throughout the parish. Tuesday morning telephone calls to their tribal police department were not answered nor was there voice mail, indicating a power outage there.

The National Weather Service in New Orleans upgraded a Flash Flood Watch to a critical Flood Warning for the entire parish of St. Mary in a bulletin issued at 9:30 p.m. Monday night. Marked Immediate Broadcast Requested, it warns residents, ;'Do not drive through flooded areas. Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles. Turn around and don't drown.'' Residents who stayed should stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio, and local TV and radio stations.

Gustav made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 70 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extending out 200 miles. A tropical storm warning with possible hurricane conditions was still in effect for the area as of 4:30 p.m. Monday, with winds of 45 to 55 mph with gusts to around 75 mph, decreasing to 30 to 40 mph with gusts to 50 mph after midnight. The storm is forecast to weaken as it moves inland.

The Chitimacha tribe is in the bayous on the Gulf Coast in South Louisiana, 100 miles southeast of New Orleans. About 350 of their 900 tribal members live on the reservation. The tribal council ordered a mandatory evacuation Sunday morning, and buses were provided to evacuate those with no transportation, tribal police Officer Ellen Hebert said. About 60 to 70 percent left and of those who stayed, ''They're on their own. We have no shelters open.'' Tribal members who refused to leave were told to ''bunk down; you're on your own. We will get to you as soon as it's safe to get back on the streets, after we assess damage and make evaluations.''

The tribal police force of 22 officers stayed, as did the fire department. ''We've secured the casino, and boarded up the government buildings,'' tribal firefighter Earl Tyler said Sunday, who had ''strongly'' suggested tribal members leave. The school and an assisted living center were potential shelters after the hurricane passed, though the extent of the damages is not yet known. Nor is it known when residents can safely return.

The hurricane wind warning was downgraded to a tropical storm warning as of Monday night, but a Flash Flood Warning for the inland Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana is in effect until 3 p.m. Tuesday, and a Flash Flood Watch is in effect for the further inland Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana until Tuesday afternoon. Heavy rainfall and thunderstorms are expected over the central Gulf coast, with tornados still possible. Gustav is expected to slow significantly, causing major flooding Tuesday and Wednesday across inland Louisiana, parts of Texas, and southern Arkansas.