Jindal Takes Helm of Troubled Louisiana

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Bobby Jindal i

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was inaugurated Monday, has been praised by residents — even those frustrated at the government — as bright, capable and energetic. Matthew Hinton/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Matthew Hinton/AFP/Getty Images
Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was inaugurated Monday, has been praised by residents — even those frustrated at the government — as bright, capable and energetic.

Matthew Hinton/AFP/Getty Images
William Doxie i

William Doxey, shown here in a shack next to his trailer where he stores his oysters, says it seems that the government is trying to drive people out of the coastal areas. Nishant, Dahiya, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Nishant, Dahiya, NPR
William Doxie

William Doxey, shown here in a shack next to his trailer where he stores his oysters, says it seems that the government is trying to drive people out of the coastal areas.

Nishant, Dahiya, NPR
House i

New building laws in Cameron Parish on the Gulf of Mexico require houses to be built 12 to 14 feet off the ground. Nishant Dahiya, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Nishant Dahiya, NPR
House

New building laws in Cameron Parish on the Gulf of Mexico require houses to be built 12 to 14 feet off the ground.

Nishant Dahiya, NPR

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's new governor, was sworn in to office Monday afternoon. Jindal takes over a state that's still struggling to recover from hurricanes Rita and Katrina which pounded the region in 2005.

More than two years later, people all along coastal Louisiana are still trying to rebuild their homes, lives and communities. And while Jindal handily won the governor's race, many in Louisiana are still leery of a government they think let them down after the storms hit two years ago.

Cameron, La.

Cameron is a small, gritty port town in the western Louisiana bayou near the border with Texas. Boats that service the oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico tie up along Cameron's docks next to shrimp and fishing boats.

Hurricane Rita hit here on Sept. 24, 2005, less than a month after Katrina slammed into New Orleans. Before Hurricane Rita, the town had 2,000 residents; immediately after, it had none.

William Doxey, 78, runs a small seafood business in Cameron buying and selling oysters and shrimp. He remembers what the town looked like after the hurricane.

"Not nothing here. Nothing. Everything was gone," Doxey said.

The storm surge from Rita drove 14 feet of water through Doxey's property. The water took his house and business with it. Doxey now lives in a beat-up, second-hand trailer that he has parked next to the concrete slab of his old house.

After the storm, he got $37,000 from the state's housing recovery program, called Road Home program. He says it's not enough to rebuild, but he's sick of fighting with the state about it.

If he had the money to rebuild, new zoning regulations would require him to elevate his house 14 feet above sea level. It seems that the government is trying to drive people out of the coastal areas, Doxey said.

Why does Doxey stay? He says he was born and raised in Cameron, and it's where he lives and works now. "Why should I go somewhere else and starve? They're not going to feed you once you move out of here," Doxey said.

Doxey doesn't expect things in his part of Louisiana to change with the inauguration of Jindal as governor. If Cameron gets rebuilt, he says, it will be as a result of the locals — not the politicians in Baton Rouge.

Lake Charles , La.

Thirty miles north of Cameron, the city of Lake Charles was also battered by Hurricane Rita, and it's still dealing with the effects of the storm. The airport terminal hasn't yet been rebuilt. Some houses are still draped in the blue tarps FEMA handed out after the storm to prevent further damage.

And as the economy continues to sputter, Macy's announced last week that it will close its department store in Lake Charles.

Randy Roach, mayor of Lake Charles, says the Rita recovery effort in southwest Louisiana is making progress, but it's been hampered by so many contractors heading east to deal with the Katrina damage in New Orleans.

By capturing 54 percent of the vote, Bobby Jindal won the governor's office outright in the primary. Mayor Roach says the rush of voters to Jindal was, in part, a response to the storms.

"I think they made people think about what's really important: What do we really need to be focusing on, what do we really need to be doing and how do we want to go about doing it?" Roach said.

Jindal offered vision and leadership for the ailing state, Roach said.

Jindal is a conservative Republican and a devout Catholic. He was first elected to the U.S. Congress in 2004. At 36, he's young, but Roach says Jindal's youthful energy is one of his greatest assets.

New Orleans

Two hundred miles east of Lake Charles, New Orleans continues to clean up from the worst natural disaster in American history — although many city residents say the damage from Katrina wasn't natural.

Darlene Martin, who lives in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, says her house wasn't damaged by Hurricane Katrina itself. Instead, her house was destroyed by the flooding of her neighborhood that followed the hurricane. Martin blames the federal government, pointing out that, had the New Orleans branch of the Army Corps of Engineers properly maintained the city's levee system, she would have been back in her home two days after Katrina hit.

Martin had flood insurance, which covered the $200,000 in damages to her property. But because the Road Home program does not cover properties that had flood insurance, she got no compensation from the program.

"I think the government should compensate us for what we have endured — eight months in isolation up in Baton Rouge, commuting back and forth and then having to live in my house while it is rebuilt," Martin said.

More than two years later, her neighborhood is still a long way from normal. Some houses, like Martin's, are completely rebuilt. The lawns are mowed. Mardi Gras decorations are up. But the new homes are often right next to gutted houses with weeds and debris covering the yard.

Martin is angry at how the Louisiana government dealt with Katrina and its aftermath. Her neighborhood is coming back, she says, thanks to volunteers.

Ask Martin about Bobby Jindal taking over as governor, and her tone softens. She praises Jindal as bright, capable and energetic.

Despite her frustration and anger toward the public sector right now, she's hopeful the new governor can do "a lot of good" for Louisiana.

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