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