Braithwaite: Isaac and its aftermath cause residents to question the government and themselvesSep 5th, 2013 | By Candace Griffin | Category: top story
One year after Hurricane Isaac made landfall the community of Braithwaite still lays eerily quiet. On August 28, 2012 this Category 1 storm, which later depreciated to a tropical storm, made landfall on Plaquemines Parish and slowly lingered—causing more damage than anyone thought possible from such a weak storm system. While communities like Ironton and Myrtle Grove took water too, Braithwaite undeniably received the brunt of the flooding.
This storm claimed two lives and some areas, such as Braithwaite Park, had as much as 15 feet of water. The only things that remain now are fading memories of the homes and families that once resided there.
Many residents of the area wish to rebuild, but fear the impending rise of insurance rates and the possibility of more flooding due to the inadequate levee systems. Currently, the Parish is trying to increase the eight foot levees to 12 feet, but many feel that this will do no good.
“At this point we’ve opted not to come back,” said former Braithwaite Park resident, Debbie Dematteo. “There’s no assurance from the Parish that this won’t happen again. It seems like the levees on the Eastbank are protecting a way of life, while the levees on the Westbank are protecting
commerce—the Parish seems more concerned about the Westbank. We’re all alone over here, with no hope and no assistance.”
Dematteo, who moved into her home about nine months prior to the storm, was shocked to learn that her beautifully finished greek revival style abode had taken on 13 feet of water due to a lack of levee protection.
“They have 18 foot levees in Pointe-a-la-Hache and 20 foot levees in St. Bernard—why leave us with 12 foot levees here?” asked Braithwaite resident, Urban Treuil. “What good is a 12 foot levee if the water made it 10 feet over the current system.
Also, in order to rebuild, residents must either elevate their homes to approximately 21 feet, or face astronomical insurance rates to leave their homes at “It just isn’t feasible to ask people to raise their homes that high; no one can afford to do that,” said Dematteo. “That’s why my husband and I decided to just walk away. However, we are continuing to maintain the property incase anything changes.”
Treuil owns The Ferry Stop across from the Braithwaite ferry landing; once a gas station and convenience store, the building is now empty. This establishment was the only gas station on the Eastbank of Plaquemines, so Treuil hopes to get his pumps up and running soon to fulfill the need for a station. He is currently running the business out of a rented trailer, with the hopes of saving up enough money to get the gas pumps working soon. He also
expressed that inadequate levees as well as the flood wall on the Plaquemines/St. Bernard border are what ultimately doomed the community.
“I consider this storm to be a man made disaster because of that wall,” said Treuil. “We all questioned it as it was being built, but we were assured that it
would be ok. It wasn’t. The wall created a funnel effect, and brought all of the water straight into Braithwaite.”
He is currently trying to rebuild his business and his home, but is being met with obstacles every step of the way.
“I’m paying $2,000 a month in flood insurance on this place, and what do I have to show for it? Nothing.” said Treuil. “But this is where I want to be, so I’m trying my hardest to come back.”
This is a sentiment that many other residents can sympathize with.
“We haven’t been getting any help from the federal or local government,” said Treuil. “It’s been a year now, and we still haven’t seen any help from either. We’ve been getting more help from outside of the Parish, than from our local government. After the storm all of our supplies came from St. Bernard; Plaquemines didn’t provide any relief for us.”
However, he does credit the Sheriff’s Department for the efforts they made to help out the community during and after the storm, as well as several volunteer stretch of land that makes up Braithwaite.
Not very many people have returned to Braithwaite—especially the ghost town formerly know as Braithwaite Park—but Treuil seems hopeful that over time, families will start returning.
“There are families that have been here for generations,” expressed Treuil. “This is their home. We’re all doing what we can to come back, and come back strong, but it’s a hard fight.”
However, Dematteo does not share this same hope. At least not for the residents of Braithwaite Park.
“I hate to say it, but I honestly can’t see anyone coming back here,” she said. “At least not without proper flood protection. Why would anyone put money into redoing a house without any protection? It seems like the local government isn’t doing as much as they could to help us out. They’re not focused or concerned about the Eastbank—there isn’t enough effort being exerted to get an adequate levee system, or at least a buyout so residents can move on. Everyone is just sitting around and waiting to see what happens.”
Such a statement emphasizes the general feeling of the community. Residents of Braithwaite would love to come back, but they are hard pressed to find a good reason. Without more support from local and federal government it seems as though this tight-knit community might not make a full recovery. The will to rebuild is there, but the means and security are not.