Tribal officials were still sussing out damage to their territories on Thursday but on the whole expressed relief that they seemed to have been spared the worst of Hurricane Isaac.
“We have dodged another bullet folks,” said Rod Crawley, chief operating officer of AMERIND Risk Management, a multi-tribal corporation, in a statement from the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET). “We have been monitoring this storm for over a week and we had teams ready to deploy and do damage assessments and right now we are on standby. That’s good news!”
Hurricane Isaac made landfall seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina, and measures put into place in the wake of the earlier storm seemed to have served tribal communities well. Downgraded to a tropical depression from the category 1 hurricane that had hit the Gulf coast, Isaac nevertheless packed a punch, causing flooding and straining levees and dams. In Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, authorities breached a levee that was strained to the breaking point by floodwaters, and in Mississippi flooding forced 60,000 people to evacuate as authorities were forced to breach a dam, CBS News and the Associated Press reported.
The U.S. Department of the Interior conducted a Tribal Assistance Coordination Group meeting on the afternoon of August 30 to assess damage. At the meeting, USET reported that “preparations, coordination and maybe a few lessons learned from events seven years ago have been very helpful in dealing with destruction from a powerful storm.”
USET said that tribes in the path of the hurricane—the Coushatta, Chitimacha, Tunica Biloxi and Jena Band of Choctaw—were reporting flooding, power outages and high winds as of 2:30 p.m. Central Time on August 30. Several communities, including the Poarch Band of Creek Indians near Mobile, Alabama, Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana near Alexandria, Louisiana, and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw in central Mississippi, were under tornado watch or warning, USET said.
“It turns out that it wasn’t as bad as we expected. The majority of severe weather was experience this morning around 1 AM (Central) when we had a lot of rain and 40 mile per hour wind,” reported the emergency response director of the Jena Band of Choctaw in the USET statement. “We fared well and had some siding taken off houses and several homes are without electricity.”
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw closed nonessential government programs and schools because of flash-flood threats, USET said. The hardest-hit USET tribes seemed to be the Chitimacha and Coushatta in Louisiana, where emergency response personnel there “reporting more flooding and debris,” the statement said.
The United Houma Nation had similar anecdotal reports, though several communities did seem to be harder hit than others. The tribe was unable to communicate through its website but issued updates throughout the storm on its Facebook page. Requests for updates and information generated many comments of power outages, slight flooding and downed trees, but those checking in online seemed to have escaped major damage.
“Lower Plaquemines parish at Braithewaite is taking on water from either a breach or overtopping of the levee there,” the Houma Nation said in one status post on August 29 as Isaac crawled through at six miles per hour. “We are getting reports of people being stranded and as soon as weather conditions improve we will begin assessing damage. Areas we expect to have significant recovery needs (wind damage and possible flooding) at this point are Plaquemines parish, Lafitte, southern Lafourche and southern Terrebonne parishes. Rough estimates at this time is approximately 1,700 households in this strike zone.”
The tribe’s radio station KUHN, though without power, was not damaged and was set to begin broadcasting once electricity returned, the Houma said. The roof of the tribe's Golden Meadow office was damaged in the storm and was scheduled to be closed until power had been restored, the Houma posted on its Facebook page late Thursday. The Houma office was going to be open and accepting all hurricane queries.
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