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'I don't have no plan': Louisiana shrimpers fear stormy future

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 6 July 2017 07:00 GMT

Albert Ragas works as a fisherman on the southern coast of Louisiana, which faces growing threats of flooding, land loss and storm devastation, Buras, United States, June 8, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Ellen Wulfhorst

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Albert Ragas has already tried relocating to escape flooding and coastal erosion, but "it just wasn't home"

By Ellen Wulfhorst

BURAS, Louisiana, July 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Albert Ragas, who makes a living catching shrimp, has already tried relocating to escape the flooding and coastal erosion in Buras, Louisiana, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

With his house in 20 feet (6 m) of water, Ragas moved and started shrimping some 140 miles (225 km) west in another tiny fishing town on the southern tip of the Mississippi delta.

"I was like 'This ain't gonna be so bad. It's almost just like home, you know, one road in, one road out'," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on his boat "Stomp the Hatch".

"But it just wasn't home. We stayed over there for a few months and it just wasn't the same," he said. "I came back and started rebuilding my house."

Like many of his neighbors, to Ragas, Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, is home despite being at high risk of flooding, storm surges, rising sea levels and sinking land.

"It's good food, and it's laid back and you don't have any traffic lights," said Michael Boudreaux, 47, who fishes with Ragas and also lost his house in Katrina. "We've run from many, many, many storms and always come back to it."

But the time will come when returning and rebuilding is no longer an option, said Ragas. "One day we ain't gonna be able to come back," he said.

FEATURE-Fight, flee, or wait and see? Locals face hard choices as Louisiana coast recedes

Chatty and cheerful, leathery from the sun and missing a leg from a freak car accident, Ragas, 45, has lived all his life - like his father before him - in Plaquemines Parish.

"Last year we would work around this little marsh island and you could see it getting smaller and smaller, and I went back this year and that island's completely gone. It's like that everywhere.

"Between the storms and the oil spill and the coastal erosion, I tell you, it's heartbreaking," he said.

Ragas said he would like to see a system of canals cut into the levees lining the Mississippi River that would act as flood-gates that could be opened during storm surges.

Like he did with Katrina, Ragas keeps an eye on looming storms and moves his shrimp boat to safe harbors, although it cannot go more than 7 or 8 miles (11 or 13 km) an hour.

"You just play it by ear," he said. "I don't have no plan."


Also shrimping in Buras is Lien Nguyen, 61, who like Ragas has no plan.

Nguyen is one of thousands of Vietnamese refugees who moved to Louisiana, and she has been in the United States since 1975.

A federally funded project, LA SAFE (Louisiana's Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments), has been trying to reach out to the close-knit Vietnamese fishing community as part of its efforts to help residents adapt to the changing landscape.

More than 60 people attended a recent LA SAFE meeting held in Vietnamese, and another 36 local residents attended a meeting with Khmer interpreters for Cambodians.

Nguyen and her husband fish from a boat they repaired after they found it hanging upside-down from a causeway bridge in the wake of Katrina.

Contemplating what she would do in another storm, she pointed skyward.

"I don't know. I belong to God. Nobody knows," she said.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on resilience as part of its work on zilient.org, an online platform building a global network of people interested in resilience, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation.

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