We are headed out of town today. Up until this point we hadn't decided where to go next. Options included Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Tampa. Our cat Buddy is beginning to grow weary of traveling so we picked the city with the shortest commute: Tallahassee.
Before hitting the road we walk up the Mississippi river to play Frisbee with our pup. Local10.com managing editor Barb Besteni recommended taking the coast instead of the freeway. We figure what the heck? Why not?! This will be my first time in Mississippi. Stay tuned!
Belle Chasse, Louisiana
After dinner Dave and Dina Illg invite us to meet their kids and see their business. Dave gives us a tour of a large empty building currently under construction behind their existing hardware store. The gleam in his eye and pep in his voice are clear indications of how excited he is about the expansion. He'll employ about 16 full time workers; another 6-7 are part time. His son Evan shows us a rendering of what the new storefront will look like.
Dave experienced part of Hurricane Katrina in his hardware store. The powerful storm left battle wounds on the landscape and souls of everything and everyone in her path. In his front store window Dave keeps a satellite image of Katrina's massive footprint with the center right over Plaquemines Parish.
It was one of the hardest hit yet least assessed areas. The compassion I witnessed between people in Plaquemines Parish left an impression on me when I was there covering the storm. At the same time news crews were feeding back video of some people looting in New Orleans, the folks in Plaquemines were turning to each other for survival. Businesses and private residents were donating clothing and food to the local high school where volunteers cooked meals for first responders and area residents who had lost their homes.
Dave recalls how after the storm he left his back door open and wrote a note that told people to take what they need, just leave your name and phone number. As we stand in his hardware store he walks over to the counter and taps it as he explains, "there was a stack of paper right here". Everyone complied and he doesn't know of a single person that didn't pay.
This is why despite predictions of an active hurricane season Dave thinks they will do alright. The people of Plaquemines are an industrious bunch who stand by each other come hell or high water. "We're prepared, we're ready, we're experienced," he tells me. "God willing, we'll be good."
Belle Chasse, Louisiana
One of the reasons we wanted to stay in New Orleans an extra night is to ensure we had a chance to pop down into Plaquemines Parish.
That's where I was when I covered Hurricane Katrina. Photojournalist Max Benitez and I were working for KVIA-ABC7 in El Paso at the time and traveled there as embedded reporters with the New Mexico National Guard. Once we landed we spent much of our time with the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office. An experience like that bonds you. I stayed in contact with Captain Robert Cosse ever since, even traveling back down there for a visit in April of 2010. It was at that time that I met "Sea Plane Dave" as he is called in Mark's cell phone.
Dave is David Illg. He used to be Captain Cosse's partner when the pair worked undercover narcotics. After 16 years in the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office David decided to retire and run his Belle Chasse hardware store JeanFreau's fulltime. As you might be wondering, yes, he has a sea plane. On our last visit he arranged a trip onboard so Mark and I could get an aerial view of some of the restoration projects under way to build up surrounding barrier islands.
On this trip we wanted to surprise Captain Cosse and so arranged a dinner at Lil G's in Belle Chasse with David and his wife Dina. But Tropical Storm Lee decided on a change of plans. Captain Cosse was out of cell phone range, at the mouth of the Mississippi handled flood damage. Dave shows us cell phone pictures of washed out roads in Myrtle Grove. Dina tells us the reason it flooded so fast is because Lee was only moving 2 miles per hour and dumping a lot of rain.