Name: Anitra Woods
GRN Partner Organization: Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO)
Hometown: Thibodaux, Louisiana
At the rate of a football field per hour, Louisiana’s coast is rapidly vanishing. Residents in our coastal parishes stand firm on the frontlines. They live with the knowledge that sea level rise, coastal erosion, and intensified storms threaten their homes and their way of life. In the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, our state has proposed “nonstructural” options for responding to these threats, including resources for voluntary buyouts from their homes and assistance with floodproofing and elevation. According to the state of Louisiana, if an area would flood more than 14 feet during a 100 year storm event, that area is deemed an unsafe and not resilient community. The state calls these areas “Resettlement Zones.” To ensure that communities are prepared for the future and understand where predicted Resettlement Zones will be, Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) has created a series of maps.
The interview transcription below provides the perspective of Anitra Woods, a resident of Thibodaux, Louisiana, on the impacts of the state’s nonstructural plans on her community. Woods is a lifelong resident of Thibodaux and the newest board member for Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO), one of GRN’s community partners. She is also the founder and director of Big Dreamers Youth Foundation (BIG: Believe In God. DREAMERS: Dedication, Responsibility, Education, Attitude, Motivation, Encouragement, Respect, Success). Everything Woods does is for the youth in her community. In her own words: “I don’t want to move, because I feel that if I leave, I’m leaving them behind to fall to where I worked so hard to build them up from.”
How long have you lived in your house?
“In my house, I wanna say…19 years.”
Is your home elevated, and if so how high?
How many times has your home flooded since you bought it?
“Well, my house never flooded, but my yard did. It would always rise all the way up to the porch. Maybe about a foot and a half. That’s on a rainy day. When they have a big storm coming it’s like coming to the front door.
I have a little over 60 [young people] in the [Big Dreamers] organization that’s all over. Like I said, I had eight that was in Baton Rouge, and of those eight, seven of them had to relocate and they had other siblings as well. They relocated--I wanna say they’re in Opelousas right now, but don’t hold me [to] that though. Because the flood waters from Baton Rouge when they came in, they was one of the families that was affected by it and some of them are members in my organization and they had to leave. My youth organization, we did give back some time, community service time, myself and a few of my parents and another one of my directors, we went out there and helped clean homes. Then another day, along with the First United Methodist Church of Thibodaux and the Hope Community United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge we was able to get together as a community. We got with them and we went out to Baton Rouge, and I brought some of the club members out there and they was able to see another side. They heard about it on the news, but actually driving out and seeing the devastation--you could see them getting teary eyed. Just to see it, but then, when you got to into the homes--mind you we did make sure the homes were mold free and everything before we was able to bring the kids in there--but, they were able to go in, help gut, clean. They even seen kids that lived in the homes and how they was affected by it. So we do have a video that we made of the kids. It was raining one day, and we’re out there in the rain, walking down the roads of Baton Rouge with flood buckets. And the kids is walking down with the flood buckets. Some of them was going and knocking on doors asking if they need any help. Someone was able to go work in there.
The First United Methodist Church was able to get together as a community there in that area and they fixed food for hundreds. People came out and got and I had kids that they’re serving, going to the cars and bringing plates of food to them, or even riding in the back of the wagon and bringing them to the homes and all. And then I asked the kids after: ‘How do you feel now compared to the way you felt just from seeing it on the news?’ Wow. At this point, if you’re talking to a child who might have been a child that had a lot of behavior problems, and probably mom is coming from a low income family, but they still privileged and they’re being ungrateful--they see how this can happen and how things can get lost and kids can lose things and not have something. They see how grateful they is for the things that they have now. Those [young people] got to see a different side. And trust me, I do know it opened their eyes a lot, and I see the difference in those that had worked with me. But like I said, we do a lot of things in the community and our whole thing is about giving back--we inspire the kids so that we can inspire the other kids.
Have you heard about the Coastal Master Plan? If so, what have you heard?
“Yes, I heard about it. Well, as far as what I know right now about it, I just recently found out about it a few months ago, I’m like, wow, because--the land loss, you know. And it’s affecting not just us here, but a lot of people that’s working, homes in all the areas, I mean...just to think about, in the future it might not be what it is today.
[My family is] scattered all over the area. Most of them here in Thibodaux. I do have family out in lower Lafourche, but they not like close close to the water or anything like that. But I mean, I do have families that are within my youth organization that have families that work in the oil industries and fishing. That’s their life. And I feel too, [if] they do come up with something with the [Louisiana Coastal] Master Plan to build some levees or something it could open up more job opportunities as well.”
Did you know that if your home would flood more than 14 feet during a 100 year storm event, the state is not planning to provide resources for elevation and is recommending that you move? What do you think about that?
“Well, everybody might not be able to afford to have their home elevated or even to relocate. So, what do you do then?
Me myself personally, I know that I wouldn’t be able to afford to move. So, thinking about the people that actually can be affected by it, those people might not be able to afford it, [and then they] might have those who are able to afford [moving]. So those who can’t afford to move, they might have to end up being stuck there. And the fact that they are stuck there--what do they do then? Especially if they have kids. What do they tell their kids--like this is what we have to do, we have to stay here. Or they might be forced to move in a home with somebody else. And then that can affect a lot in their lives.
I know people who have lost their home and it did affect their lives a lot. I mean still to this day, I know people who lost their homes in [Hurricane] Katrina, And they still haven’t really recovered from that. So, it’s hard for some people. And even though FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and all came out to help, it still wasn’t a big help. [For] some people, there wasn’t nothing.”
If the state provided money to elevate or to buy your home, would you move? Would you ever consider moving, say if they moved your neighbors or family as well?
“I don’t know. For me, I grew up here, and I love where I’m at--where I’m located. I don’t think I would move. And it’s only because this is my home. So, me personally, no I wouldn’t.
Probably not, [even if my family and neighbors moved as well]. But it depends--I mean, if it’s something that’s seriously gonna affect me, then probably then I would move. But other than that, no.
My family on my dad’s side is in down the bayou area which is the Raceland area, and my mom’s side of the family actually here from the Thibodaux area. So being down the bayou, what we would call it from here, you know, that’s home. And also here in Thibodaux is home, so like I said, if anything were to happen in the near future, relocating to me is really not an option. ”
What do you wish the state was doing to educate you on your flood risk?
“All those things [mailers, community meetings, and parish meetings]. And not only just with meetings, I feel that we should get some information to the schools--college, high school, even as low as junior high school. Have school assemblies, and educate [the youth] as well. And maybe they might have that one scientist, right there at the school, and they go home and talk to their parents, and their parents might know somebody that knows somebody that can maybe help or reach out or do something. Mostly, I feel not just getting us as adults involved, but getting the youth--like college and high school level--involved. Not just saying, just reaching the community. Putting it out in the community--in the schools, in the church. Even local businesses. If they could just provide pamphlets there, you know, people walking in and see that--you know, they might not see it here, but they can get it elsewhere besides just with the local churches and the library and whatever, you know.
And I mean, thinking back, this not nothing that just happened. You know, they’ve been going on about the coastal land loss since back in 1959. I mean, 1959 up until 2005 before [Hurricane] Katrina happened, they lost over 300 square miles of land. I mean, that’s a lot right there! That’s something to be saying. You’re looking at this right now, it’s even getting worse. I mean, when Katrina and Rita had hit, that was like another 17 square miles of land loss, so it’s crazy. More information needs to be put out there. That’s all I’m saying. Something has to be done for our future. I mean come on! South Louisiana, Terrebonne Parish, lower Lafourche Parish, man that’s the heart of the Gulf right there.”
This blog is part of a series amplifying voices from communities in coastal Louisiana. Like many other residents in southern Louisiana, Anitra Woods has a deep attachment to the place that she calls home. The state of Louisiana must work closely with communities as it begins to implement the nonstructural portion of the Coastal Master Plan. It must find the best methods to protect them while taking into account their concerns and priorities.
In collaboration with local, regional and national organizations, GRN submitted comments to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority on the 2017 Coastal Master Plan with suggestions on how to improve the nonstructural aspect of the plan so that it prioritizes the communities most at risk. GRN will continue to work with coastal residents as well as our community and conservation partners to share knowledge about the coastal crisis and advocate to make sure the state provides coastal communities with the information, tools and resources that they need to survive.