VolunteersIt was a bright and breezy day in Buras, Louisiana. Deep in the heart of Plaquemines Parish, the long, thin community that follows the Mississippi River from just south of New Orleans to where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico, I visited Louisiana’s own “Ground Zero” this week.
The cool, sunny weather made it difficult to imagine what had transpired at this location nine months ago. The very eye of the largest, most destructive hurricane in recorded history made landfall here, delivering devastation in multiple punches.
First, Hurricane Katrina pushed her massive storm surge into the parish, spilling over the levees and punching through several floodwalls. Then, she lashed at the buildings and towers of the parish, knocking the Buras water tower to the ground and scattering the splintered debris of homes for miles.
In the center of Buras, one of the few remaining landmarks that I recognize is the Buras Fire Station. A simple utilitarian steel framed building, the industrial-sized roll-up doors on both ends of the building are gone. All that remains of the building’s interior is the light gauge steel framing that used to provide walls between the rooms.
Amazingly, four fire trucks stand ready under the badly damaged roof--this is still an active fire house.
A local citizen tells me the all-volunteer Buras Fire Department continues to protect what remains of their community. Most of their calls come at night, I am told.
The trucks are not as shiny and pretty as is typical of fire equipment, but no one is going to begrudge the volunteers if their trucks are not as polished as they used to be. We all have realigned priorities since Katrina.
I am intrigued by the bulldog hood ornament on one of their Mack trucks. Bulldogs were bred to fight, and are known to be stubborn animals. I wonder if the Buras volunteer firefighters ever considered adopting a mascot, because the bulldog would be ideal.
Betsy, Camille, Katrina and Rita all left their marks here. These hurricanes (and certainly more in the future) challenge the people of Buras. But they hold on, they persevere, and they thrive. No one—not Old Man River, not the U.S. government, not even the hurricanes of a dozen names—will push these stout citizens off their chosen home lands.
Even as another hurricane season approaches, even as the Corps of Engineers hurries to complete repair of levees and floodwalls, people are returning and rebuilding. Stubborn is the only word for it.
And as I stood in the practically destroyed Buras Fire Station, I was reminded again of the spirit that makes this nation great. I marveled at the sheer audacity of the Buras Volunteer Fire Department to continue to operate from here, to show their friends and neighbors that although buildings and towers can be toppled by hurricanes, communities can stand tall.
Hurricane Katrina had passed directly over Buras, delivering the horrible force of a tropical cyclone in record measure. But it was clear to me that as Katrina tore through their community, the good people of Buras spit in her eye.