In this 2005 file photo, swirling floodwaters of Lake Charles lap onto the shore in the port city of Lake Charles, La., following landfall of Hurricane Rita.

In this 2005 file photo, swirling floodwaters of Lake Charles lap onto the shore in the port city of Lake Charles, La., following landfall of Hurricane Rita.

CAMERON, La. — Vacant slabs, weedchoked lots and solitary stairs to nowhere permeate this tiny town in southwest Louisiana. All that remains of the Klean-N-Kruise car wash is a rusted white sign overlooking an empty, overgrown lot. Residents travel 30 miles away for anything they can’t get at the local gas station because there is no grocery store.

And everywhere there are the campers.

Hurricane Rita was one of the fiercest storms on record when it roared ashore near the Texas/ Louisiana border on Sept. 24, 2005. Coastal towns splintered as seawater pushed 20 miles inland and tornadoes wrecked homes. At least 11 deaths in Texas and Louisiana were blamed on the storm, which caused more than $11 billion in damage and sparked one of the largest evacuations on record.

In any other year it would have been the worst hurricane of the year. But this was the year of Hurricane Katrina. And the communities along Louisiana’s western coast felt abandoned. They still do.

As Katrina’s 10-year anniversary was marked by a week of events including visits from three American presidents, in communities along the western coast where people still live in small trailers in their yards because they can’t afford to rebuild, Hurricane Rita’s wrath is ever-present.

“People would like to move back. It’s just so costly. You’ve got to build up,” said Shon Manuel, who stays in a camper in Cameron to be close to his business, Dockside Bar & Grill. “It’s like they don’t want you here.”

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Rita struck as a category 3 hurricane with 120-mph winds and a storm surge reaching as high as 20 feet, swamping small towns across southwest Louisiana and ravaging southeast Texas.

Intent to not see a repeat of Hurricane Katrina where tens of thousands did not or could not evacuate, officials ordered people out across the region in one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history. But even that was dangerous. More than 100 people died in the chaotic, pre-storm evacuation of the Houston area, including 23 nursing home patients who perished when their bus burst into flames. Millions fled and got stuck in traffic jams in sweltering heat.

When the hurricane arrived, seawater pushed as far as 20 miles inland, drowning acres of rice, sugarcane fields and pasture for cattle. Thousands of cows drowned. Rita spread devastation across what portion of Louisiana’s coastline Katrina had spared, with damage reaching 150 miles east of where the storm came ashore.

Forty percent of all structures in Cameron Parish, a coastal community next to the Texas border, were completely destroyed. Even now, it has yet to fully recover. Cameron Parish had about 10,000 residents before Rita. That’s fallen to fewer than 6,700 since the storm, according to U.S. Census data.

People who have struggled with the increased costs of rebuilding stay in small trailers or campers in their yards, a stone’s throw from beautiful new homes hoisted high above the ground.

Many people have never returned since Rita’s wind and water reduced homes to shards and stripped some lots bare.

“It’s not recovered, I don’t think, because the people’s not back,” said Tressie Smith, who owns the Anchors Up Grill on the main highway through town. “We don’t have enough people here. It’s not like home.”

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Despite the widespread destruction, Rita was dwarfed by Katrina’s $151 billion damage toll and loss of life. Katrina struck southeast Louisiana and Mississippi a month earlier, killing more than 1,800 people. When the levees broke, 80 percent of New Orleans flooded.

“To this day, we’re the forgotten Rita victims,” said John LeBlanc, mayor of the small town of Erath in Vermilion Parish.

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