Last Modified: Friday, August 03, 2012 5:38 PMNeed a book that gives an insider’s look at a catastrophic hurricane and flood? Try Ivor van Heerden’s “The Storm,” which details the science and politics behind the ravaged wetlands and failed levees that doomed New Orleans during and after Katrina.
Would you rather a book that details the political failings, at every level, that followed a killer hurricane and flood? Try Douglas Brinkley’s voluminous and passionate “The Great Deluge,” also about Katrina.
A third book on hurricanes and flooding demands to be read by people with interest in the history of Louisiana’s coast and the hardy people who have weathered brutal storms. Like Hurricanes Rita and Ike, which followed Katrina and were overshadowed by it in national attention, this thin volume, “Hell or High Water,” by veteran New Orleans newsman Ron Thibodeaux, follows more heralded books. But Thibodeaux goes where others have not: to Cameron and Vermilion and Terrebonne parishes, to small towns and remote bayous. In doing so, he has lent readers valuable insights into the type of hardy people who populate the far reaches of our state, people who have rebuilt their homes and businesses and lives in the wake of devastation.
They include families like the Heberts, who operated a restaurant in Cameron; Shadd Savoie, president of Roy Bailey Construction on the Intracoastal Highway; Ernest Girouard, a rice farmer in Vermilion Parish; Jamie Billiot of the United Houma Nation, who ran the community center in Dulac. And so many more. Their stories, captured by Thibodeaux, a New Orleans newsman, are compelling and memorable.
Their stories and the stories of others emerged from along the coastline. They are stories of hard work, ruin, more hard work, and, in some cases, success. In many cases, they are stories about families who have worked the land and the waterways along southernmost Louisiana and, come hell or high water, will not be moved off the land on which generations of their families have toiled. They keep faith with the homeland.
Thibodeaux’s last story, most fittingly, recounts the lives of Charlie and Macilda Theriot of Cameron Parish, who carved out their married lives in the shadow of the Great Depression, weathered the horror of Hurricane Audrey and passed along to their great--grandson Ryan Bourriaque their affection for their home parish, its people and their ways of life. Bourriaque, in turn, returns to Cameron Parish after college and works to help rebuild it after Hurricane Ike.
“Hell or High Water” is a quick and enjoyable read about coastal Cajun people, their way of life and their struggles to stay on the land, despite nature’s fury. Thibodeaux gives due attention to the storms that ravaged this corner of the state, and the people who used their own initiatives to rebuild.
“Hell or High Water” by Ron Thibodeaux, c. 2012; University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press; $20; 204 pages.