Plaquemines Parish Struggles Years After Katrina

Oysterman Gary Bartholomew lost his home and boat. He didn't return to the east bank fishing village of Pointe a la Hache for three years.
While New Orleans got most of the attention for the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, the storm actually came ashore first at Plaquemines Parish, nearly wiping that place off the map. Tragically the first place hit has been the last place rebuilt.

When the surge stopped and the winds waned, Peggy Martin's home and the garden she'd spent a lifetime cultivating were gone.

"It looked like Hiroshima," said Martin.

Katrina made landfall in Lower Plaquemines Parish, accessible mostly by ferry and 65 miles south of New Orleans. Three people died there, two of them Martin's 80-year-old parents.

"They found them in the front yard," said Martin, :both about 50 yards apart. "

Before Katrina about 15,000 people lived on the Parish's east and south ends. Today it's about 3,500. Some low-lying communities look like ghost towns. Nearly 700 families are still living in mobile homes and FEMA trailers, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.

Oysterman Gary Bartholomew lost his home and boat. He didn't return to the east bank fishing village of Pointe a la Hache for three years and says little has been done.

"This community is still devastated," he said.

The bulk of the more than $600 million in federal recovery money has gone to the more populated north section of the parish leaving those in the lower section feeling neglected. Residents say there are no schools or court houses.

Parish president Billy Nungesser said he also feels the frustration.

"I understand they want to see things built down here," said Nungesser. "It's going to take a long time."

In Plaquemines, rebuilding its fragile infrastructure is taking longer than elsewhere. New Orlean's levee system is a year away from being ready. Some levees in Plaquemines parish are five years behind.

This year the BP oil spill again stalled the economic lifeline of the parish, shutting down once-bustling marinas. Byron Encalade, president of Louisiana's Oystermen Association believes the community will survive.

"This is our home," he said. "When you have nowhere else, you have no choice but to buckle down and get things done."

There are signs of progress. A handful of public buildings have opened, churches are being rebuilt and the only restaurant, the Black Velvet Oyster Bar - which was completely destroyed - is open.

For Peggy Martin the devastating loss of family and home came to be symbolized in the death of her prized rose bush. It had survived a month underwater but was then destroyed by bulldozers cleaning up debris. Or so she thought. She recently found that parts of the plant were still living. It's a small sign of life in a place looking for hope.

More the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina:

Complete Coverage: Katrina Five Years Later
Katrina: How It Changed the Psyche of America
NOLA a Work in Progress, 5 Years After Katrina
Katrina's Damage Still Hurts Cities, Reputations
Coming Home to a Rebuilt New Orleans

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.