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'Not scared': Bayou residents refuse to flee storm

PTI | Boothville | Updated: 13-07-2019 07:10 IST | Created: 13-07-2019 07:02 IST
'Not scared': Bayou residents refuse to flee storm
"I'm not scared," Nguyen said Friday outside a friend's trailer home in Boothville, a fishing village about 70 miles (112 kilometers) southeast of New Orleans, as a major storm bore down on Louisiana. Image Credit: Wikimedia

Boothville, Jul 13 (AFP) Dung Nguyen has been shrimping in Gulf waters for a quarter century, and he's not about to let anything come between him and his livelihood -- not torrential rain, no evacuation orders, not even full-blown hurricanes. "I'm not scared," Nguyen said Friday outside a friend's trailer home in Boothville, a fishing village about 70 miles (112 kilometers) southeast of New Orleans, as a major storm bore down on Louisiana.

As a fisherman, "I have to come back here," the 59-year-old told AFP. "Storm not coming yet." Thousands of residents were heeding evacuation orders and fleeing Plaquemines Parish, the low-lying web of marshland and bayous that juts into the Gulf of Mexico, to escape the impact of approaching Tropical Storm Barry. The storm was expected to strengthen into a hurricane Saturday and slam much of Louisiana including the city of New Orleans, dumping up to two feet (61 centimeters) of rain on already water-logged communities.

But many hearty and stubborn locals like Nguyen are toughing it out, as they have come to do during some of Louisiana's most punishing weather. "I tried to warn him this is the calm before the storm," Nguyen's son Nam said. "But he's old school." Nguyen has known hardship, having fled war-torn Vietnam 40 years ago to make a new life in the United States.

He built a shrimping business with his son, now 34, on the Gulf Coast, and in 2005 their family rode out the monster Hurricane Katrina on their fishing boat in a canal near Biloxi, Mississippi. That brush with death could have convinced Nguyen to abandon fishing. "A lot of people lost everything," Nam said of fellow shrimpers.

But it only made Nguyen more determined. The family has had plenty of close calls. Nam almost died in an anchor mishap. An uncle showed his hand that was missing three fingers, the grisly result of a cable accident on his crabbing boat. Many Plaquemines residents insist mega-storms like Katrina have steeled them, and they are now willing to risk life and limb to stay with the house and land -- and water -- that they love.

"These are people who are born and raised here, very, very close-knit," said Jade Duplessis, public information officer for the government in the parish, as counties are known in Louisiana. The region is a major provider of US seafood. "This is their livelihood and they're in defense mode," Duplessis added. "They're prepared to evacuate for a storm, but they'd rather stay here."

Among the most hardcore evacuation resisters are those dozens, perhaps hundreds, who live deep in the bayou, in so-called marsh camps accessible only by boat. But in several towns along Highway 23, residents were resisting the call to leave. "I guess it's part of a culture," explained Keith Delahoussaye, a 60-year-old mechanic hunkering down in Port Sulphur. While Katrina did its worst, literally washing thousands of bayou homes away, including Delahoussaye's, he and others rebuilt, developing a sense of resilience to what Mother Nature can throw at them.

But for his neighbors, Delahoussaye had a single word of advice: "Leave." One neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said he was staying put. "I need to keep an eye on my stuff," the man said. But some longtime residents said they owe it to the community to evacuate when ordered.

William Dinkins, 72, has lived in Buras for half a century and said he understands the "die-hard" nature of the isolated Plaquemines community. But Dinkins evacuated Thursday with about 70 other people to shelter in Belle Chasse, a town closer to New Orleans.

He expressed frustration with those seeking to ride Barry out, putting the lives of emergency responders at risk when they ultimately need to be rescued. "I don't feel like they should be putting other people's lives in jeopardy," Dinkins said.


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