A look at Louisiana’s rugged side, 15 years after Katrina

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Forever changed, Plaquemines Parish is still in active recovery mode

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Plaquemines Parish, La — In the small community of Buras, Louisiana, there’s a tall flagpole that unofficially marks the spot where Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on August 29, 2005. When the eye of the storm tore across the parish, it left a path of catastrophic destruction. Fifteen years later, the parish is still in active recovery mode.

It’s a place where the mighty Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico, and because of its location, residents know that nature demands respect and that hurricanes are a fact of life that comes with living here.

Parish President Kirk Lepine wasn’t involved in the local government when Katrina hit, but he recalls living and working in Belle Chasse, where he owned a hair salon. Like so many others, he packed enough clothes for a few days and evacuated to Houston, with a plan to return soon.

Instead, he returned to new normal where his family was fortunate, but neighbors to the south had lost everything.

“There were about five or six stylists from the southern end that got wiped out. They didn’t even have a shop so I was able to house those people, let them come back to work, get their life kind of back in order. Those people are still working today,” says Lepine, grateful that he could make a difference.

“We don’t know if we’ll ever get back that way of life before 2005, but we’re not gonna stop fighting for it.”

Kirk Lepine, Plaquemines Parish President

“The effects of Katrina, if we look at the positive side, we were able to finally rebuild our courthouse on the East Bank, and we’ve had some bond money that we put aside for levees. On the East Bank we were able to raise our levees from eight feet to 12 feet. And on the West Bank, we were able to raise it in certain areas to 12 feet; some are still not 12 feet but we continue to have that as a work in progress,” says Lepine.

Next month, a new elevated library is set to open in Port Sulphur.

But in other parts of the parish, the physical and financial scars are hard to miss.

Byron Marinovich is one of the few who did rebuild after the storm, turning a pile of rubble into a new version of a popular restaurant, the Black Velvet Oyster Bar & Grill. Behind the building that contains his home, the restaurant, and a gun shop, there’s a wide open green space, all the way to the levee which sits 300 feet from his back porch.

“This was all houses and businesses all throughout in here and all of it’s all gone. There’s not much here. There’s no bowling alley, there’s no shoe store, there’s no computer store, there’s no place to go and watch a movie, all of that’s all gone, all of it,” says Marinovich, who reopened the restaurant in 2007.

President Lepine says its the people of Plaquemines that make it so unique.

“People of Plaquemines are so resilient. They’ve been, and I hate to use this word, but they’ve been beat up,” says Lepine, recalling the devastation of Betsy in 1965, Camille in 1969 and then Katrina in 2005.

“I don’t really feel that we’ve gotten our fair share of things to keep us going infrastructure-wise,” says Marinovich, who says it’s getting harder and harder to stay.

“We don’t know if we’ll ever get back that way of life before 2005, but we’re not gonna stop fighting for it,” says Lepine, noting that for all the Louisiana residents who were impacted by Katrina, the storm brought a realization that their life is more than just their property.

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