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Ann and Forest Billiot Receive New Home, December 1, 2006

Lafourche couple gets keys to new hurricane-proof home
NYT Regional Newspapers

Article published Dec 1, 2006
From Houma Courier


Ann and Forest Billiot stand in front of their new hurricane-proof home on Oak Point Road in Pointe-aux-Chenes Thursday afternoon. (SABREE HILL/THE COURIER)


POINTE-AUX-CHENES -- The rooster timed it perfectly. As Ann and Forest Billiot officially claimed ownership of their new house in Pointe-aux-Chenes, the red-and-black bird climbed the elevated home’s wood stairs and let out three hearty crows.

It was a fitting welcome back for a couple whose roots run deep in a Lafourche Parish community where neighbors share chickens and a love for the storm-weary strip of land that survived a gut-wrenching one-two punch from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Thursday’s home-dedication ceremony, a product of the combined efforts of a number of national and local agencies, was hammered, bolted and wired together by volunteers with Mennonite Disaster Services.

Construction of the home took about four months, said the organization’s field consultant Jim Shelley. Volunteers started work on the home in June, staying for about a week at a time, said field consultant Jim Shelley. The organization now has enough money to rebuild storm-damaged houses in Isle de Jean Charles, Galliano, Dulac and another in Pointe-aux-Chenes, Shelley said.

The trailer where the Billiots lived for 17 years was flooded by Rita and will be hauled away next week, a bittersweet event for the couple.

"It’s got memories," Ann said of the home where she raised her children.

But their future is bright -- Ann, 44, and Forest, 50, spent a good part of the afternoon showing visitors around their new house, which stands just behind their ruined trailer.

The couple plan to simply soak in their newfound luxury for the next few weeks -- "Sit in it, look at it, be amazed," Ann said.

Elevated on 12-foot pilings, with sturdy walls and rooms painted rich shades of blue, red, purple and green, the home was designed to withstand floods and winds up to 150 miles per hour.

Even with practical precautions in place, the Billiots, along with everyone in attendance at the home’s dedication, also rely on faith for protection from storms.

The Rev. Keith Naquin of Pointe-aux-Chenes blessed the home, praying "from the foundation to the roof of this home that everything would be secure."

Randy Verdun, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Tribes Coalition, prefaced the ceremony by struggling to express his gratitude for the efforts of all involved in the construction.

"How do you explain in words what all this means? It’s hard to understand exactly what happened here after hurricanes Katrina and Rita," he told the group of more than 50 gathered on the cement slab underneath the Billiots’ new house. "Without the people you see here, we would be standing on dirt. It’s more than just a physical thing. It’s a spiritual thing."

The thought of abandoning Point-aux-Chenes and rebuilding where hurricanes don’t pose a threat every year seemed not to have occurred to the couple.

"Oh no, he’s been here all his life," Ann said, gesturing to her husband. "When there’s a hurricane you can be warned."

The Billiots, who spent the past year living with relatives, hope to move in on Monday, along with their daughter Celeste and son Alex.

After hearing of the plight of many Point-aux-Chenes’ residents after Katrina and Rita, Shelter for Life -- a nonprofit Christian organization based in Oshkosh, Wis., that provides housing for victims of overseas disasters -- arranged for the building of Billiot’s new home, said Norm Leatherwood, senior program consultant.

Leatherwood, who watched Hurricane Katrina roar ashore on a television broadcast in southern Sudan, said the deadly storm is the first disaster for which Shelter for Life turned its attention inside the borders of the United States.

"The amazing need and resilience of the people who not only live here but committed their lives to rebuilding" prompted the group to focus on Point-aux-Chenes, Leatherwood said.