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Hurricane Rita Survivors Attempt to Move Forward


There were two major hurricanes that struck the Gulf coast last year, but because there has been so much attention focused on Hurricane Katrina and the havoc it caused in New Orleans, stories of Hurricane Rita are sometimes neglected. VOA's Greg Flakus went to southwestern Louisiana, to the devastated coastal town of Cameron.

More than four months after Rita swept ashore here, Cameron remains in ruins.

This town once prided itself on being far away from most concerns of the modern world, a place for fishing and boating.

Now it is like a ghost town.

One of the mainstays of the local economy is still the oil business, which is coming back quickly. Oyster boats are also returning to the local port.

But few people can return to live here because their houses were all swept away by Rita's tidal wave.

Here to help are dozens of volunteers from around the country, including a group of 18 students from Ana Maria College in Massachusetts.

The group leader, Harry Duchesne, of Worcester, Massachusetts describes how he got started.

"A priest friend up there in Massachusetts has a contact down here and so we talked to them and had it all set up to help these people out."

Duchesne says victims of Hurricane Rita have been overshadowed by all the attention given to Katrina. He would like to see more people come to help in this area. "Cameron, Louisiana and Creole, this area needs your help. The mandatory evacuation has just ended and people are starting to come back. They need some help with cleanup. That is why we came and we encourage others to come."

Reporter: "Now, this area that we are in, was this a housing area?

Duchesne: "Yeah, a mixture of houses and small business and it is just all gone. This was a neighborhood and these folks knew one another, they knew their neighbors. The fact that they want to come back and they are supporting one another is inspiration to us."

Among those who have returned is this woman, who prefers not to give her name.

She has found pieces of her house several kilometers inland from this slab where it once stood. Now, the family lives in a mobile home they purchased with money from their savings. Extra items go into this tent pitched outside.

She says she and her husband bought this property eight years ago and worked hard to make their home here.

"We built up our hill here. We started from scratch, built up our yard and tried to make something here, so there was about five years that we were actually living here."

Now, it is all gone, but rather than move somewhere else, this family has decided to build here again.

She adds, "Even though we have had turmoil like this, it is going to take a lot more than this to get us down, to bring down our spirits. Sometimes day-to-day it is hard, but I have my family and we are all in good health, we have clothes on our backs and we have food on the table. All the rest is material."

Each day more people come back to Cameron, many on the ferry that crosses the Calcasieu shipping channel near the coast.

They hope to make Cameron the good place to live that it was before the ravages of Rita.