Hurricane Gustav: A Scientist’s Snapshot

September 15, 2008

Wilma Subra, a native Louisianan, is a chemist who puts her expertise to work helping residents of communities who are either protesting the existence of a nearby industry that is exposing them to toxic chemicals or trying to block the construction of one adjacent to their homes. The UCC National Disaster Ministries has worked with Dr. Subra since the 2005 Gulf Coast Hurricanes to provide educational material for communities that were flooded and experienced possible contaminants.

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Here is an excerpt from her journey in Louisiana following Hurricane Gustav.  Wilma writes: 

On September 6, 2008 I performed a damage assessment post-Gustav tour of Louisiana from Raceland to Fourchon, in Lafourche Parish. 

The area was damaged by Hurricane Gustav on September 1, 2008.  The eye of Gustav came on shore in Terrebonne Bay and proceeded to Cocodrie and Houma, in Terrebonne Parish.  The eye of the Hurricane was just west of La. 1 and the Bayou Lafourche area.  That put Bayou Lafourche in the upper right hand quadrant of the Hurricane, which is the most severe quadrant of a hurricane.

Raceland, Mathews and the surrounding areas did not have electrical power.  There were limbs and trees down, roofs and overhangs damaged and ripped from their structures, and debris everywhere on the land and in the water.  Windows of homes and boats were still boarded up in anticipation of Hurricane Ike striking the Louisiana coastal area in the next week.

In Lockport electrical poles were broken off, transformers were hanging upside down from the broken  poles,  electrical wires were on the ground and roadways and long lines of utility poles were leaning towards the west.   The majority of utility poles were no longer in an upright position.  

The further south along La. 1, one ventured, the more severe the damage.  Boats were washed up on the banks of Bayou Lafourche and snagged on piers and pilings.  Debris littered the landscape.  Portions of buildings and homes were torn from their structures.  All of the fishing boats were in port.  Only a very few oil field service boats moved slowly up and down Bayou Lafourche.

In Larose, the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway was being repaired and one way vehicle traffic was being alternated.  Vessel traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway was proceeding at a somewhat reduced rate but did not require the opening of the Larose bridge.   On the return trip the bridge was open for boat traffic and a slight delay was encountered.  

In Cut Off the severity of the damage increased. More utility poles were damaged or destroyed, more homes had roof damage that were temporarily covered by Blue Tarps provided by FEMA.  There were still homes with the remnants of Blue Tarps placed on the roofs of homes following Hurricane Katrina.   More businesses had structural damage.  Very few overhangs, carports and awnings were intact.  Damage to boats was more severe.

Along the Bayou a few traffic signals were being powered by generators.  Trucks carrying heavy industrial equipment, wastewater collection tanks, living quarters, and drilling equipment were being escorted as they transported their cargo south towards the Port of Fourchon.

Galliano, which is one of the land bases for Air Logistics Helicopters offshore division was still shut down due to lack of electrical power.  Air Logistics had moved their base to Galliano from Grand Isle just prior the Hurricane Katrina due to the potential for Hurricane damage and disruption of business.  Following Hurricane Katrina, Air Logistics was able to continue operating the Galliano facility and provided transportation services to workers serving the more than 3,500 off shore oil and gas rigs in the northern Gulf of Mexico offshore of Louisiana and Texas.  Five days following Hurricane Gustav, the helicopter terminal is still no up and running and the helicopters serving the offshore area are temporarily based in New Iberia. 

Upon approaching Golden Meadow, the hurricane damage and destruction became even more severe.   In Golden Meadow, the Petit Caporal, a historical fishing vessel build in 1854 occupied a place of honor along the shore of Bayou Lafourche.  The boat had been restored and sat on a concrete display area serving as a landmark representing the early history of Golden Meadow.

The winds from Hurricane Gustav overturned and severely damaged the wooden vessel.  The wooden hull was ripped apart, the mast bent and the wooden cover ripped from the vessel.  The only thing the insured that the vessel did not move far from its home base was an anchor that was embedded in concrete and attached to a chain that traveled the length of the boat.

In Golden Meadow, power poles were snapped off near the ground, transformers littered the streets, and long lines of poles were leaning toward the west.  The sign that welcomed visitors to Golden Meadow was bent and mangled.   Just south of the Bridge in Golden Meadow where the highway (308) on the east side of Bayou Lafourche ends, sits a set of locks on Bayou Lafourche.  The locks allow for vessels to travel along Bayou Lafourche and when closed, restrict Hurricane Storm Surges from impacting Golden Meadow and the communities along Bayou Lafourche north of Golden Meadow.   As you pass the locks and cross over a small guide levee that connects to the locks the road elevation decreases.  From that point southward, the hurricane damage increased from damage due to wind and tornadoes to include damage from the Hurricane Gustav storm surge.  Houses have been ripped from their foundations by the hurricane storm surge.  The broken homes have been twisted and turned, had their roofing material, and exterior surfaces ripped off and the broken remaining structures set down in the oily sediment sludge  that coated all of the land surfaces like chocolate icing on a cake.  Barren concrete pillars that once served as housing foundation supports were abandoned by the homes and stuck out of the oily sediment sludge.   The sediment sludge originated in the bayou and wetlands areas adjacent to La. 1 and were swept up and carried onto the ground surfaces by the hurricane storm surge.   Contaminants in the sediments of the water bodies have accumulated over the last century due to illegal dumping and now are coating surfaces and available for exposure of humans and animals to the toxic muck.  Crabs observed in the oily sediment sludge area could become contaminated with the chemicals in the sediment sludge and bioaccumulate the chemicals into their bodies.   Residents in the area frequently consume crabs from this area and could become contaminated with the chemicals in the sediment sludge.  One-eighth mile below the locks a pair of ducks coated with oil were observed at a bayou side structure used as a rental truck depot prior to Hurricane Gustav.

The sediment sludge had covered the surface of La. 1 but had been somewhat scraped off by the locals.  Warnings by locals that the road was very slippery and dangerous from this area to the Gulf was demonstrated to be true.   The edges and subsurface foundation of La. 1 had been eroded by the storm surge and many areas of the road were broken off or suspended in air with no structure supporting the asphalt road bed.

Many areas were still submerged under flood waters.   Oily sheens covered the surfaces of the flood waters.  Pirogues were observed along the roadway to provide transportation from La. 1 to the houses surrounded by flood waters from Hurricane Gustav.   In areas were the flood waters had receded somewhat, the sediment sludge layer had begun to dry out and crack, forming a hap hazard cracked surface that was characteristics of the sediment sludge layers brought on shore by the storm surge of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita three years ago.  This characteristic cracking formation was observed along with the sediment sludge layer from Golden Meadow to the Gulf of Mexico.

Wooden docks on concrete piers along the edge of Bayou Lafourche were coated  with sediment sludge and marsh grasses.  Piles of marsh grass had been pushed to the sides of La. 1 after being deposited on the road surface by the hurricane storm surge. 

The marsh area on both sides of the highway were littered with debris and broken and mangled power plies and lines. Fishing boats were washed up on the shore of the bayou by Hurricane Gustav.

In the community of Leeville, where the service companies serving the offshore oil and gas industry dominate the banks of Bayou Lafourche and both sides of La. 1,  the service company facilities were submerged in oily standing water, thick layers of oily sediment sludge and marsh grass.  The entire area resembled an oil field waste sludge pit.  A small cemetery between the edge of La 1 and Bayou Lafourche was submerged in standing water and oily sediment sludge.  Its picket fence sticking out of the muck and marking its boundaries.  Similar impacted cemeteries are present along the side of La. 1 below Golden Meadow.

The best restaurant in Leeville was surrounded by standing water with a very oily sheen, marsh grass and sediment sludge were piled  on the front porch and shingles were  missing from the roof.  The parking lot consisted of mounds of marsh grass in standing oily water.

Crossing the Leeville Bridge heading south,  the destruction  to the marsh by Hurricane Gustav can be readily seen.  Adjacent to the bridge in the marshy area is a tank battery serving an oil/gas production well.  The tanks in the battery are leaning at strange angles and the integrity of the tank contents is questionable.  

Along the stretch of LA 1 between Leeville and Port Fourchon, the road winds through open marsh lands on both sides of the road.  Jack- up drilling rigs hug the shore adjacent to the road, debris is scattered through out the marsh, downed and broken power lines march through the marsh lands.  Air boats and marsh buggies are being used by contractors to work on the utility infrastructure of electrical lines and pipelines. Storage tanks displaced by Hurricane Gustav dot the marsh horizon.  Evidence of marsh destruction due to Hurricane Gustav is evident.

At the point where La. 1 turns east to follow the shore of the Gulf of Mexico to Grand Isle and  Highway 3090 turns southwest to Port Fourchon, the Lafourche Parish Sheriff Department was restricting access to Grand Isle.  Only those with homes, businesses or camps were being allowed to go in, observe their property and immediately leave.  Traveling along Highway 3090 to Port Fourchon, the severe destruction caused by Hurricane Gustav was apparent.  Upright power poles were almost nonexistent.  Power lines crossed the road in numerous places where they had come to rest after the hurricane.  All structures along this stretch were severely damaged or destroyed. 

Port Fourchon is the home of more than 60 companies that service the off shore oil and gas industry which consist of more than 3,500 offshore oil and gas drilling and production rigs and platforms.   As a result of Hurricane Gustav, electrical power is non existent and will not be available for quite some time.   The shipping channel from the port to the Gulf of Mexico was partially blocked due to storm sediment and displacement of stones from a jetty.  Limited use of the shipping channel is currently being allowed during daylight hours only. 

Hurricane Gustav storm surge at the port was 6 to 7 feet.  Debris litters the landscape.  Marsh grass coats fence lines and other structures.  Vehicles that remained at the port are covered with marsh grass and downed power poles.  Some of the vehicles appear to have been carried by the storm surge and deposited against fence lines and other barriers.  Every mobile home at the port was damaged or destroyed.  Metal buildings had the metal sheeting peeled off.  Drums of treating chemicals litter the roadways.  Some of the drums have leaked their contents.  Samples of diesel collected in October 2007 were mixed with marsh grass along the road side.

Information available on Grand Isle indicates that Hurricane Gustav winds and tidal surge resulted in extensive impacts to the barrier island and battered the island shore line along the Gulf of Mexico.  The levee system at Grand Isle was severely damaged.  The damages to the levee system ranged from erosion and breaches to complete destruction of the levee system.  Eighty -Five percent of the new 8,000 square foot levee system on the east end of the island was breached or completely destroyed.  The construction of this new area was completed in on August 21 or 22, 2008.

Large quantities of sand from the sand levee and beach systems were transported by the tidal surge onto La. 1 and  the camp sites beyond the highway.  La. 1 on the island is not navigable.  Wind damage to the homes and camps consisted of roof damage, siding damage and in some cases complete destruction of elevated structures.

What you can do:

1. Pray for people who live in communities affected by tropical storms and hurricanes.

2. Make a generous  Secure On-line Donation.  Let's make our goal of $250,000!  Bulletin Inserts are available as a PDF with Color or a B&W PDFPower Point Projection also available (save to your files).

If you prefer to write a check, send gifts payable to your congregation marked for "2008 Hurricane Recovery" with the request they be sent through your Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries, Financial Services - 6th Floor, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.  Gifts payable to Wider Church Ministries may be sent directly to the previous address.

3.  Create a Church World Service Clean Up Bucket.  Help us reach the UCC goal of one-thousand-one buckets.

4.  Gather a Disaster Recovery Mission Trip Group

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