Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans with Cat. 3 winds but it is widely believed that the southern tip of Plaquemines was actually hit with Cat. 4 winds. No one knows for sure, because the wind measuring instruments were destroyed. A tidal gauge in Plaquemines did, however register a storm tide in excess of 14 ft. Yikes!
And with a height of 3 ft. above sea level in the little hamlet of Buras, Louisiana, there wasn't any place to go to if you were foolish enough to try to ride out the storm. The place is quite like the Florida Keys in that there is only one road in. And one road out.
Plaquemines is an interesting industrial area. Petroleum production is king, with several refineries in the parish. Further out and closer to the southern end of the parish you run across shipyards and helicopter fleets dedicated to servicing the offshore. There is a small commercial fishing industry, and there was a small sport industry before the hurricane. At the present time there are plenty of fishing boats up for sale and the sport fishing industry looks pretty dead. We had trouble finding gasoline and didn't see anything that looked like a working motel, so you can tell that things are dire economically unless you are workin' for one of the oil companies.
Plaquemines is basically a narrow peninsula, with the Mississippi River on one side and an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico on the other. In many ways being out in Plaquemines Parish reminds me of driving through the Florida Keys, but with a cajun flavor.
About the first thing that caught our attention was this big gambling boat in a scrapyard:
Down here the ships are pretty durned close to the houses and the highway. We drove over the levy and watched the pilot boats heading out to guide this ship into the Mississippi River:
Like I said, there were some pretty impressively sized ships not far from the highway. This part of Plaquemines Parish reminds me quite a bit of Savannah, Georgia where ocean-going ships cruise down the river near downtown, but in the case of Plaquemines the ships are much larger; there were some big muthas out there in the Mississippi! :
There are a couple of VERY large refining complexes in the parish. Ironically, this one small pump was one of the few pumps that we saw; most of the oil is coming from the offshore platforms which are out in the Gulf of Mexico:
It doesn't take you too long before you start seeing the first FEMA trailers. The trailers are everywhere. Find a nice looking house and as you get closer you realize that the house is trashed, the windows are out, and there are two or three trailers in the yard.
And there are communities of FEMA trailers everywhere:
Basic services were trashed. We got concerned that we would run out of gas after stopping at several stations that didn't have gasoline in the tanks. Finally we put a couple of gallons of regular into our SUV, which was, painfully, meant to run on premium fuel.
There were few groceries open on the end of the parish, and restaurants ... well, forget it. There ain't none.
I thought this was interesting because the fire department was still trashed, several years after Katrina blew through. In my semi-limited experience with disasters, I always thought that the Feds repaired the emergency services fairly early on:
Finally, we got down to the end of Plaquemines Parish, literally where the road ran out. When we crossed Haliburton Drive we knew that oil was in command here.
At the end of the state highway the road was flooded (the Mississippi was unusually high for that time of year). Even though there is supposed to be some sort of nature park at the end of Plaquemines Parish the only visible aspect was a small compound (and by small I mean maybe 200 ft by 200 ft.), fenced in, with no personnel, the gates locked, and a gunboat inside.
Clearly petroleum production gets the nod down here, although, in fairness, it appears that the bulk of that preserve is out in the water somewhere and presumably accessible only by boat.
If you look closely at this display of wildlife posters, you can see the gunboat anchored behind the signs:
Wedged between the various oil patch operations there are some commercial fishing operations:
But make no mistake about it. Plaquemines Parish, and the people that live there, are all about the oil production industry:
It's just too bad that the workers living down there seem to have been forgotten in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Keep the faith folks, and don't forget that, years later, Louisiana is still rebuilding and that the folks down there are still struggling.