“I’m taking this from Katrina,” said Fitte, a former star running back to the school. “We are looking forward to coming back in a few weeks at most as we have no electricity. After Katrina, people had no more houses. All you could see were the foundations.”
Yet Buras is in a precarious position. Highway 23 is flanked by the Mississippi on one side and the advancing Gulf on the other. What was once a swamp is now increasingly open water, the result of canals dug to reach oil platforms, levees that prevent the replenishment of sediment from the river, and the pounding of hurricanes. In the local cemetery, a dozen coffins that floated away during Katrina remain, encased in concrete and tied to the ground, side by side like piano keys, numbered with spray paint in case they wash away again.
“If another Katrina strikes, I don’t see anything coming back here,” said Mark Cognevich, the council president of Plaquemines Parish. “Not many people have insurance. Most live check to check. I don’t think the federal government will put money into it like they did after Katrina. Maybe they won’t let anyone come down here.”
Perhaps no high school in the state has been hit the hardest by hurricanes than South Cameron High School in southwestern Louisiana. The Mighty Tarpons reached the state football championship four times from 1969 to 1996. But football was halted during the 2018 season after South Cameron forfeited two games and finished a third with the 11-player minimum.
According to the latest census, the population in Cameron Parish has fallen from about 10,000 residents in 2000 to less than 6,000 today. An exodus followed the scythe of Hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008. Some residents were put off by building codes requiring houses to be built 12 to 14 feet above the ground and prohibitive insurance costs. Some were fatigued by the storms, forcing students in South Cameron to take classes in a bingo hall.
Last year, Laura’s hard wave destroyed all of South Cameron High School’s sports facilities. The 2021-22 school year kicked off with just 40 students enrolled in high school. Parry LaLande, who was a soccer coach at South Cameron for 28 years, has urged the school to consolidate with Grand Lake High School, 15 miles inland on a ridge and somewhat safer from storm surge. Grand Lake reached the state soccer championship last season despite not having a home field. It also played in the baseball title game.