BAYOU LA BATRE, Ala.
The water was already starting to turn roads into rivers Tuesday afternoon in the oyster and fishing town of Bayou La Batre, Ala., as Hurricane Sally remained parked offshore a few miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. Ernest Nelson, 66, had taken refuge under a house raised 10 feet off the ground on concrete pillars. The rain was coming hard.
How Mr. Nelson found himself under this house, and indeed, how the house got built in the first place, was all tangled in the long, painful drama of a changing climate that has irrevocably changed and complicated life along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Mr. Nelson, a retired commercial fisherman, had been living more than 300 miles west of Bayou La Batre, in the small Louisiana town of Hackberry. But a few weeks ago, Hurricane Laura roared out of the Gulf and devastated Hackberry, including Mr. Nelson’s home, a small travel trailer right on the water. His sister, Stephenie Bosarge, 63, had driven over in a U-Haul truck to take him to safety just before the storm made landfall.
“You’re looking at the last person to get out of Hackberry,” Mr. Nelson said, grinning under his cap.
Ms. Bosarge brought her older brother back to Bayou La Batre and her elevated home, set just a few yards from the water. There had been a different house on the property before Hurricane Katrina, but Katrina blew it away, along with Ms. Bosarge’s wedding bands and family photos. The Volunteers of America came through town and built her this new house. Katrina also washed away her oyster shop.
Since Katrina, many houses in Bayou La Batre are now raised on stilts, and people have their ways of figuring out what to do with all that space below. You can park a truck or boat, store junk or store tools. Ms. Bosarge turned her place into a pleasant outdoor living room, with a little tiki bar, some porch swings and a stereo system.