- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

CAMERON, La. (AP) — This Louisiana town may have dried out and cleaned up since getting flattened by Hurricane Rita, but its recovery is moving in slow motion: Nearly everyone still lives in temporary housing.

The post office operates out of a trailer. The town’s only bank works out of a trailer. Darlene Dyson sells shrimp from a trailer, then picks up her 7-year-old son and takes him to their home — a trailer.

“It’s not like it was before the storm, that’s for sure,” Mrs. Dyson said.

Rita struck two years ago yesterday as a Category 3 storm whose 120-mph winds and 9-foot storm surge ruined every structure in the southwestern Louisiana towns of Johnson Bayou and Holly Beach. It caused similar destruction in southeastern Texas.

About 100 died in Texas, including 23 senior citizens whose bus exploded during evacuations. The storm caused no fatalities in Louisiana, but plenty of property damage in Cameron and Vermilion parishes.

In all, $5.8 billion in property insurance claims were filed in Texas and Louisiana, according to a Texas insurance group.

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat, arrived yesterday morning for the second-anniversary observances, including a tour of new facilities where workers are trained for jobs in the energy and construction industries. A shortage of trained workers to build new homes and work in the state’s oil and gas business is seen as a continuing problem in the recovery from the storm.

In Cameron, the parish courthouse is one of the few buildings that survived Rita. It was a town of about 2,000 residents, but local officials estimate today’s population at about half that.

Those who have moved back, or plan to, have complaints similar to those of residents hit by Hurricane Katrina: The process of returning home is stymied by disputes with property insurers and paperwork from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Living in Cameron is especially difficult because no grocery stores or pharmacies have opened since the storm. Residents must drive 50 miles north to buy supplies. Mrs. Dyson drives 53 miles to Lake Charles every Monday to buy groceries and other essentials.

“That’s 106 miles round-trip,” she said, “just to get a pound of meat.”

Few elderly residents have returned, partly because Cameron still has no hospital. In emergencies, ambulances must drive to a medical center in Lake Charles. A rebuilt $23 million hospital is set to open in Cameron this fall with 20 beds.

Anil Patel, owner of the Cameron Motel, said his business suffers from a lack of customers willing to pay $69.99 per night for a room.

The motel had 96 rooms, but the storm washed away about half of them. His clients mostly are offshore workers, but the majority of his remaining 51 rooms usually sit vacant. Mr. Patel said he and his wife, who live in a trailer next to the motel, are struggling.

“I hope things pick up, but I don’t know,” he said.

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