How far can you move?
Coy Verdin was about 100 feet (30 m) from the still-moving waters at Bayou Grand Caillou and just a few miles north Louisiana’s marshy coast.
His parents are still living in the mobile home, which is firmly anchored and elevated. It overlooks the oaks that frame their view of the bayou. The home of the 52-year old in Fisherman’s Lane, Dulac, is just a short drive from the bayou.
Verdin, a third-generation fisherman and coach volleyball at Grand Caillou middle school in Houma is glowing about the bayou. He doesn’t want “down the bayou”. Ida had severely damaged his house less than a year ago, after it suffered minor damage from Hurricane Zeta.
He said “I’m moving”, as he toured the ruin of his home after Ida had severely damaged his roof and caved into his ceiling with torrential rainfalls. “A little further up.”
Before a hurricane strikes, it is common to have to decide whether you should evacuate or stay. The question of whether to relocate or stay is raised if the hurricane strikes hard. On Aug. 29, Ida, the strongest storm to ever hit Louisiana, made landfall. This was 16 years ago, the date Hurricane Katrina caused massive population shifts across southeast Louisiana. People are talking about moving again after the latest storm. Not just in Verdin’s Bayou Country.
LaPlace lies 70 miles (110 km) inland of Dulac, and 30 miles (50 km) west of New Orleans. It is a suburb of the working class, nestled between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. People are looking to move away after cleaning up the aftermath of the second major flood in nine years, Isaac 2012 which pushed water from the lake into their homes.
Dawn Anthony stated, “This is our second attempt, and it’s just not worth the experience anymore.” Dawn stood outside the house she has lived in for 27 years, while her husband, Derek worked inside to remove ruined drywall using a sledgehammer.
As workers threw a blue tarp over their home, Michael and Shontrece Lathers were watching.
Michael Lathers stated, “We didn’t need flood insurance when this house was purchased.” He was touring the ruined home after Hurricane Ida.
He was a mechanic and had been planning to move the house even before Ida struck, flooding it for the second time ever since Isaac. He now expects to sell the house for a loss. He said that a recent groundbreaking on flood control projects to protect his neighborhood was “10 years too late.”
However, he won’t be moving to Louisiana. He intends to move to St. Helena Parish where he has relatives, which is about 60 miles (95 km) north of LaPlace. It is further from the lake or the river. Verdin also stated that he did not plan to leave the place he grew-up in. Verdin plans to stay close to his family and continue fishing.
Professor Elizabeth Fussell at Brown University said that environmental migrants are people who move due to repeated hazard events. She explained that these people typically move short distances in order to preserve everything — their employment, cultural capital, and friendship networks. They don’t want anything to change in their lives. They want to get away from risk and move a short distance.
Katrina caused devastating flooding after levees collapsed, swamping New Orleans by 80%. The city’s population plunged. New Orleans is now home to only 79% of its preKatrina population, at 39,000. According to The Data Center of New Orleans, some neighborhoods that were hardest hit, such as the Lower 9th Ward have not seen half of their population recover.
It remains to be seen what effect Ida has on the region. Will it drive people to other areas, or encourage them to move inland? Lamar Gardere, executive director of The Data Center, said that other factors, such as storms and housing costs, can also play a role in shifting population.
Recent 2020 census data show that Louisiana’s population growth rate of 2.7% over 10 year is lower than 7.4%. However, it has seen a lot of growth in the southern half of the state, which includes the area around New Orleans as well as the suburbs close to Baton Rouge.
Gardere via email said that this raises the question of whether people are fleeing the state or the south because of storms.
Gardere stated that “Interestingly, even among those who left New Orleans, but never returned, many eventually returned to a neighboring Parish.”
Bridget Dinvaut, LaPlace District Attorney, helped her sister clear out an apartment that was flooded by storms. She said she understood the need to flee after a disaster.
It’s overwhelming. It is horrible. It’s so catastrophic. Dinvaut stated that the most immediate response was to “Just let me walk away.”
She believes that people will choose to rebuild, especially considering the flood control plans.
Coy Verdin’s mother Kathy Verdin, Bayou Grand Caillou said that she’s not ready to give up bayou life.
She said that she didn’t intend to leave, leaning on the pickup truck parked under her mobile home. She pointed towards the water, saying “There’s no place like this.”