September 14, 2005

Residents trickle back to former Louisiana town

By Maggie Fox

PORT SULPHUR, Louisiana (Reuters) - A black sow and her
piglet rooted through what was left of Jacob Puderer's
refrigerator while he inspected the wreckage of his house.

"I have no idea where they came from," said Puderer, trying
to shoo them.

There are quite a few surprises on Puderer's property in
the little fishing village of Port Sulphur, snuggled against
the bank of the Mississippi River about 45 miles south of New
Orleans. None of them are pleasant.

"I never would have dreamed I would wake up and see a boat
in my yard like that," he says, trying to laugh at a small
motorboat lying on its side nearby. As with the pigs, he does
not know where it came from.

The eye of Hurricane Katrina passed directly over the town
on August 29. It stayed flooded for a week, but the 20 feet (6
metres) or so of water is gone, the road is clear -- somewhat
-- and a few residents were back to see the destruction.

As police opened three suburbs of New Orleans to relieved
residents who had electricity, clean running water and
flushable toilets for the first time in more than two weeks,
they also let people come to the more remote parts of
neighboring Plaquemines Parish.

Puderer says it is worse than finding nothing.

"It looks like a bomb went off," he says as he walks over
fallen trees and around piles of unidentifiable debris.

"I wish it would have been a bomb -- it would have blown
everything away instead of leaving it."

The house stood on 12-foot (4-meter) stilts but still
flooded to the ceiling.

"At least I got one wall of my pool," Puderer laughs again,
his blue eyes crinkling in his deeply tanned, lined face. He
pulls on a cigarette. "I just bought that pool, too."

A massive cypress log lies on the 6-foot-(2-metre) high
deck Puderer built around the above-ground pool. "That log
weighs about 8,000 pounds (3,600 kg)," he observes.

"I can imagine bad, but I can't imagine this crap," said
his friend, James Trabeau, a commercial fisherman whose home
down the road is still flooded and inaccessible. Trabeau is
trying to retrieve a portable sawmill that miraculously seems
to have survived in Puderer's shattered shed.


Puderer, an inspector at a nearby Chevron plant, has lived
in the area all of his 43 years. His family is safe with

"A lot of people ain't going to want to come back," he
said. "But I got no choice."

Lynnell Taylor is one of those not coming back. Like
Puderer, she is lean and tanned and displays the same, dark
southern Louisiana humor.

Taylor, 36, is watching her 16-year-old daughter, Ami,
retrieve a set of drums, an electric guitar and a television
set from the remains of her bedroom.

"Our house used to be over there on Camellia Street," says
Taylor, pointing to a spot about 50 yards (metres) away. The
blue frame house evidently floated, almost intact, in the
floodwaters, before collapsing in a tumble of boards and

"My daughter had the only upstairs room," adds Taylor,
fighting back tears. "It looks like everything in her room is

Nothing else is.

She is staying with her brother in Gretna, one of the New
Orleans suburbs reopened to residents on Wednesday. "I was
looking for a house up there anyway," she said. "That was going
to be my Christmas president to my kids -- to move there."