Shelter and the Storm

Katrina’s victims come to town.

  1. Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, is a hub of oil and fishing industries on the Gulf of Mexico. The hamlets along its waterways rise in elevation and affluence as they increase in distance from the coast. Trailers, aluminum foil in their windows to beat back the sun, give way to communities screened by oak and cypress trees. One of the loveliest neighborhoods is Bayou Black. There are thoroughbreds on lawns there, and an alligator farm. The week’s sole rush hour begins Saturday before dawn, when fathers and sons leave home to fish and hunt. Later that morning, the shell-pink great house of a nineteenth-century sugarcane plantation opens for tours. The gift shop, in what the docents call “the servants’ quarters,” sells books with such titles as “Myths of American Slavery” and “Slaves by Choice.” Hurricane Katrina only grazed this house and its environs, pulling shingles off roofs and whipping the moss from the trees. After the levees of New Orleans broke and poor blacks fled, Bayou Black was only sixty miles down one of the few open highways from the city.

    When an emergency shelter in Houma, the parish seat, filled quickly, several members of a Catholic church in Bayou Black asked local officials if they could open the basketball court of their recreation center to refugees. Earlier in the summer, the pressing social issue at the gym had involved the casings of sunflower seeds: a sign at the entrance read “What Goes in Your Mouth You Must Swallow Not Spit Back Out on the Bleache...