Giving Thanks for what Katrina Didn't Take Away

On this Thanksgiving Day, some in Louisiana are celebrating what they didn't lose during this year's hurricane season. Michele Norris speaks with Mark McMurry, an administrator for Calcasieu Parish in western Louisiana. The parish wasn't hit as hard as New Orleans, but residents still had to deal with the aftermath of the strongest storm the area has seen in years. McMurry is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at his home this evening.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

While many of us are giving thanks today for what we have, some are giving thanks for what they have left and looking toward the future. Nearly three months after Hurricane Katrina struck and two months to the day after Hurricane Rita hit Texas and Louisiana, there are some very special Thanksgiving gatherings all along the Gulf Coast. Mark McMurry is hosting one of them. He's the administrator for Calcasieu Parish in western Louisiana. Rita did some of its worst damage there. Mark McMurry joins us.

Now how are things going for you this day?

Mr. MARK McMURRY (Calcasieu Parish): Going great, Michele. It's a beautiful day down here. In fact, it's probably the prettiest day of the year and we just realize we have a lot to be thankful for here.

NORRIS: Tell me about your Thanksgiving gathering. You're the host. Who's coming over?

Mr. McMURRY: Yeah. Well, we have family coming in from Houston and other parts of Calcasieu Parish that are gathered here, and we're getting ready--the turkey and the cranberry sauce and the rice dressing are almost ready and we'll be having that shortly after we talk.

NORRIS: How did you fare in Hurricane Rita? Did you sustain any damage to your house?

Mr. McMURRY: We have a camp south of here, which is a little closer to the Gulf, probably about 20 miles from the Gulf, that sustained some damage. I lost my boat house and the wharf and everything, but at my home here in Sulphur I had minimal damage, some roof shingles were torn off. There was quite a bit of vegetative debris--trees down and that sort of thing. But overall, compared to a lot of the damage that was around I felt very fortunate.

NORRIS: So much of the focus on the damage and the recovery effort is focused on New Orleans. How are things going there in Calcasieu? What's happening with the recovery effort?

Mr. McMURRY: Well, it's been good. In fact, there's even been some expressions of a little bit of frustration here that we've kind of been off the radar. You know, I think we probably didn't sustain nearly the damage that they did down in New Orleans to homes as were flooded, but the amount of damage to trees here was significant. In fact, some of the contractors told us that they have worked the storms in Florida in the central Gulf Coast and Katrina and have never seen the amount of tree debris--limbs and trunks of trees uprooted and all. They've never seen the amount that we had here.

NORRIS: These back-to-back hurricanes just interrupted so many things that people took for granted in life, and the sort of daily rhythms that you got used to were altered in so many ways, and I'm wondering if a holiday like this--celebrating the holiday was all the more important for you to hold on to those traditions.

Mr. McMURRY: I think everybody here felt that way, Michele. Here in this parish, we have several Thanksgiving gatherings across the parish were Lions Clubs and other service organizations are putting together Thanksgiving dinners for people who've just--you know, are living in trailers right now--travel trailers because their homes have been damaged and they're coming together. It's been a tradition for many years. I think this is the 21st year, and in the past it's been for folks who were alone and didn't have family around. But this year it's got additional significance because of the number of homes that were damaged. People are out of homes. They were living in travel trailers and they're living with family in many cases, and so I think this one this year is going to have particular significance.

NORRIS: I hear your guests there in the background.

Mr. McMURRY: Yeah.

NORRIS: What are you serving today?

Mr. McMURRY: Well, I've smoked a turkey on a rotisserie grill, and we've got rice dressing and probably umpteen vegetables, and then plenty of dessert, but we've got a pumpkin pie, we've got more than any of us probably need to be eating.

NORRIS: Well, that turkey--that sounds delicious. Is it already on the table?

Mr. McMURRY: Well, it's about half-carved. When you called I was about halfway through carving it, so it's close.

NORRIS: Well, Mr. McMurry, all the best to you. Thank you so much, and happy thanksgiving.

Mr. McMURRY: Thank you, Michele. I enjoyed speaking with you.

NORRIS: Mark McMurry is the administrator for Calcasieu Parish in western Louisiana.

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