Gulf Coast: Two Years Since Hurricane Rita

The street in the Lower Ninth Ward is covered in heavy dried mud as the water begins to drain from the area, in this Sept. 26, 2005 file photo in New Orleans. Rita struck two years ago, Sept. 24, 2005, a Category 3 storm whose 120-mph(193-kph)winds and 9-foot (2 3/4-meter) storm surge ruined every structure in the southwestern Louisiana towns of Johnson Bayou and Holly Beach, bringing similar destruction to southeastern Texas. (AP Photo/Ric Francis,File)
AP (file)
It's been two years since Hurricane Rita swept ashore, leaving a new trail of destruction in parts of the Gulf Coast, and deepening the scars in other places, which had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina only a few weeks earlier.

Rita's worst was concentrated in southwestern Louisiana and eastern Texas; in both states, there is still a long way to go in rebuilding the damage from the storm.

Rita's Category 3 force, with 120-mph winds and a 9-foot storm surge, ruined every structure in the southwestern Louisiana towns of Johnson Bayou and Holly Beach, bringing similar destruction to southeastern Texas.

About 100 died in Texas, including 23 senior citizens whose bus exploded during evacuations.

The storm caused no fatalities in Louisiana, but plenty of property damage in Cameron and Vermilion parishes.

In Louisiana Monday, Gov. Kathleen Blanco is set to mark Rita's anniversary in Westlake and New Iberia, at events meant to highlight one of the lingering problems that has slowed the recovery process: a lack of qualified workers across southwestern Louisiana.

In Cameron, Louisiana, one of the hardest hit places - with the courthouse one of the only buildings not flattened by Rita - nearly all of the town's 1,000 residents still live in temporary housing.

Before Rita, there were twice as many people living in Cameron. Those that still do are pushing through more difficult circumstances that before the hurricane.

The post office operates out of a trailer. So does the only bank in town. There is no grocery, pharmacy or hospital; a rebuilt $23 million hospital is set to open in Cameron this fall with 20 beds.

Residents must drive 50 miles north to Lake Charles to buy supplies, on a two-lane highway that cuts through the region's marshland.

"It's not like it was before the storm, that's for sure," says Darlene Dyson, who makes a living by selling shrimp from a trailer, picks up her 7-year-old son at the end of the day for the trip back to their home - in another trailer.

Those who have moved back, or plan to, have complaints similar to those of residents hit by Hurricane Katrina: the process of moving home is stymied by disputes with property insurers and paperwork from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Marvin Trahan, 46, a native, is hoping a lawsuit against his insurer will be settled this year so he can move back. The storm destroyed his three-bedroom house. He now lives in Lake Charles but wants to build a smaller, replacement house on his property in Cameron.

Trahan said the pull of his hometown lies in its small-town peacefulness, plus its proximity to prime hunting and fishing areas.

"You can fish here, you can hunt here, you can do whatever you want," Trahan said. "You can leave your door unlocked all night without worrying about somebody coming in. It's just a great place to live."

It's not, however, a great place to own a motel.

Anil Patel, owner of the Cameron Motel, used to have 96 rooms. Half washed away during the hurricane. Today, the majority of his remaining 51 rooms usually sit vacant. Patel said he and his wife - who live in a trailer next to the motel - are struggling.

"I hope things pick up. But I don't know," he said.

In all, there were $5.8 billion in property insurance claims in Texas and Louisiana, according to a Texas insurance group. In Texas, the storm resulted in 220,641 insurance claims that totaled $2.8 billion, said the Insurance Council of Texas. In Louisiana, there were 201,157 claims totaling $2.6 billion, the group said.