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Louisianans Decide Whether To Save Their Most Valuable Possession - Their Homes


Hurricane Ida demolished thousands of homes in south Louisiana alone.

NPR's Frank Morris went down to see how the rebuilding effort is coming along house by house.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Ida turned southeast Louisiana into a vast, sprawling disaster zone. It wrecked many of the homes in towns within 20 miles of the ragged coastline. It displaced fishermen, supply boat workers, children and the most venerable senior citizens.

JOYCE BOUVIER: I'm Joyce Bouvier. And my son and my daughter-in-laws was nice enough to take us in. My house is not livable, so...

MORRIS: Bouvier, who's 82, fled her place in Cut Off, La., to stay with her son in nearby Larose. The power here now comes from a diesel generator droning away outside. But at least there's a fully tarped roof overhead. Bouvier is a Houma Indian. And because of that, her education stopped when she was just 13.

BOUVIER: Indian school went up to seventh grade. And I couldn't go to the white man's school. They wouldn't let us go to school.

MORRIS: But she persevered, earned a GED, got married, had kids and started planning a house.

Her son, Greg Sanamo, lights up with the memory.

GREG SANAMO: I remember I was in second grade, and she would call us all into the living room. Y'all, come see, come see. And she had a drawing of how she wanted her house one day. Her drawings made out - had a ruler - where whose - twin beds here and twin beds here - and everybody's going to have their own bed. And we're going to have a kitchen and a living room.

MORRIS: An indoor toilet - they built the place in 1967. Paying the mortgage was always a struggle. And she almost lost it when her first husband died. But again and again, Bouvier found ways to hang on through more than a half century of storms, work and hardship.

BOUVIER: I want to do for myself, you know? And we were doing well, you know? Not much of anything, but we were doing well. But the hurricane took care of that.

MORRIS: The storm crashed a big hackberry tree into the corner of the house and took out part of the roof.


MORRIS: Greg Sanamo, who's busy with his own damaged house and two shattered businesses, looks in on the place when he can.

SANAMO: Oh, yes, I do. To see - I mean, one storm can just pass through and just change everything.

MORRIS: The blond brick walls are still straight and strong. But they're hiding the real damage. The smell hits you at the front door.

SANAMO: Oh, you can smell the water damage. Look at the mold. Look at this.

MORRIS: Mold is scary aggressive here. The ceiling already looks like a big petri dish, with blistering black and green pods spreading across the waterlogged tiles. The floors are buckling.

SANAMO: Yeah, buddy. I'm glad that she doesn't come in here because it would be a heartbreaking thing for her to see it.

MORRIS: Almost everything in here, down to the Sheetrock and insulation, is going to have to be yanked out and hauled to the curb. And then there's the furniture. Bouvier has some insurance. But there's a problem - the $10,000 deductible. She doesn't have it.

BOUVIER: No - not no $10,000. I don't know (ph). Whatever the insurance pays, I guess we'll go by that. And then the rest, I guess we'll have to borrow or something.

MORRIS: Bouvier was in similar straits a few years back. And she says a Mennonite group fixed up her place for free. But Ida trashed more of this region than any storm in memory. Tens of thousands of people, like Bouvier, are all vying for a limited pool of generosity and government assistance. With help, Bouvier may be able to save her family home once again. But many others like her won't.

Frank Morris, NPR News, Larose, La.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "NATURAL CAUSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.