PORT SULPHUR, La. – The commander of the military's hurricane-relief effort saw firsthand Saturday the double punishment dealt by Katrina (search) and then Rita (search) to the land running southeast of New Orleans down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico (search).
"To these people, the crisis is still going on," said Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore (search), touring Plaquemines Parish by truck and helicopter. "They haven't gotten to the recovery part yet."
Parish President Benny Rousselle (search) said about 16,000 of 28,000 residents remained displaced. The parish, a major seafood producer and home for oil refineries, took a direct hit Aug. 29 from Katrina, then suffered more flooding a week ago from Rita. About 30 to 40 percent remains flooded.
"This is critical terrain," Honore said. "It's critical to the nation."
Army and Coast Guard helicopters dropped sandbags as large as three tons to patch eight levee breaks in the southern half of the 80-mile-long parish. Honore said another six heavy-lift helicopters were on the way from Texas, after completing Rita-related missions there. Barges and airboats are also being used in the effort. The Corps of Engineers hopes to have the floodwaters out next week.
Col. Duane Gapinski of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said most floodwater had been pumped out before Rita, but now, "We're playing catch-up."
Three residents are confirmed dead, two more deaths have been reported and two have been missing for more than a month, Rousselle said.
Honore slowly shook his head as he saw miles of communities with houses and businesses crumpled or torn from foundations, flipped-over boats, citrus trees ruined by Gulf seawater, and flooded cattle pastures. A Shell Oil pipeline was ruptured by Katrina, adding to the mess.
But resident Dutch Asevedo, 78, said the parish is resilient. The parish rebounded from heavy blows from Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and Camille in 1969.
"We brought it back," he said. "They're going to build back, no problem."