Windell Curole

“The living levee legend of Lafourche”

It was a mild, overcast February afternoon when Windell Curole led us up the steps of the Leon Theriot Lock in Golden Meadow, a small fishing town in southern Lafourche Parish. Atop the lock, the view is incredible—in the truest, “hard to believe” sense of the word.

For over 40 years, Curole served as general manager of the South Lafourche Levee District, advocating for a rural region on the front lines of global climate change, on the outer edge of a landscape sinking into the sea. Curole uses the lock’s raised vantage point as a visual aid, guiding politicians, journalists, and others to the top of the raised platform, or what can feel like the cusp of two worlds. Many have heard the stats—Louisiana has lost over 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s, an area roughly the size of Delaware—but this view translates numbers and analogies into a startling contrast between protected land and missing land now covered in rippling water.

Talkative and animated, Curole often drives home points with sayings known as “Windell-isms.” That day, his mantras included “nothing represents reality like reality!” Here, the reality of wetland loss, and the levee’s role in salvaging what remains, seems undeniable. “It’s so dramatic,” Curole said.

Look north into the protected area, and you’ll see homes with lawns, grass stretching to tree lines at the horizon. Look south, toward Leeville, and the stretches of solid ground disappear, replaced by patches of marsh in open water. Louisiana Highway 1, the main artery of the parish, becomes a thin strip through flowing tides. A line of “skeleton trees,” oaks shriveled from saltwater intrusion, reach barren branches to the sky.

Curole pointed toward spots where homes and businesses once stood—nearest to us, a set of pilings holding an empty slab in the air. The home was destroyed by Hurricane Ida in 2021, which wiped out all but three structures from the lock south to Leeville, a community named after one of Curole’s ancestors. The Category 4 storm pushed out the last full-time residents of Leeville and shuttered landmarks like Gail’s Bait Shop, the latest in a series of storms to speed the longtime migration from the encroaching Gulf.

There’s no substituting a view like this. But even on a smartphone map, it’s easy to see where the South Lafourche levee system ends. Just look for where finger-shaped Lafourche Parish starts shrinking from flesh to bone.


Curole retired from his post in January 2023 but continued serving in a part-time role until this March. That’s when he officially stepped down from the Levee District, marking the end of an era defined by a lack of flooding. In a post-Hurricane Ida interview, WVUE Fox 8 meteorologist David Bernard (who has since left the station) dubbed Curole “the living levee legend of Lafourche.” Though playful, the moniker is not off base.

The lower end of Lafourche Parish relies on levees and other flood protection to function. And Curole has devoted decades to maintaining and improving the flood protection system, despite numerous challenges, from sinking land to federal orders to cease and desists.

“The ability for South Lafourche to even exist lies with Windell Curole,” said Tim Osborn, Eastern Gulf regional navigation manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Office of Coast Survey, who has worked alongside Curole for over 20 years. “He has committed his entire career and life to the protection of that area.”

Curole is largely credited with keeping the fragile southern end of the parish dry for nearly four decades. The region encircled by the 48-mile Larose to Golden Meadow levee system has not flooded since Hurricane Juan in 1985, which hit just before the levee system was completed.

Since 1985, the only National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims within the system have stemmed from rainwater flooding in a few homes due to issues with parish-operated drainage canals—not the kind of storm-related or tidal flooding that would come from levee failures, Curole said.

 The decades-long dry streak is remarkable, considering that low-lying Lafourche sits in the heart of an area experiencing especially drastic rates of land loss, even by Louisiana standards. Lafourche sits within the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary, the wetlands between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, which has been called one of the fastest disappearing land masses on the planet (some say the fastest). The wetlands at the center of the Barataria Basin, between the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche, are fading faster than 75% of all other Louisiana wetlands regions, the U.S. Geological Service said in a recent Washington Post article.

Osborn, among others, credits Curole’s work with protecting the lower end of the parish from a roll call of major storms including hurricanes Cindy and Rita (2005), Gustav and Ike (2008), Isaac (2012), and Zeta (2020). “Zeta was scary,” said Curole, who also served for years as the Lafourche Parish emergency director. “A six-foot storm surge and it blew hard for two hours.” Neighboring Terrebonne Parish saw flooding in thousands of homes for both Rita and Ike, which helped spur construction of the area’s levee system. Hurricane Ida in 2021 posed one of the most dangerous threats. The Category 4 storm dealt a direct hit to South Lafourche, making landfall near Port Fourchon. The storm sent a surge at least 16 feet against the levee system, according to Curole, who measured the surge via the debris line left behind.

Homes and buildings in the region saw major wind damage, but no flooding. Water slightly overtopped the levee system in some spots, but did not enter homes or other buildings.

“By all metrics, South Lafourche should’ve flooded for Ida,” Osborn said. Yet the levee system, elevated above heights authorized by the federal government, held. Had the South Lafourche Levee District not defied the Corps’ rules and heightened the system, “we absolutely would’ve totally flooded for Ida,” Curole said.

And the flooding would have been catastrophic, local leaders and scientists say. “Thank God that he violated those cease and desist orders,” said Reggie Dupre, Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District director and a former state senator. “I think people would’ve died, had the [South Lafourche Levee District] board and Windell Curole not done what they did to improve the levees down there.”

Representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed the area would have experienced significant flooding had Curole not performed the unapproved work. “The first lift that was done prior to 2005 prevented flooding from Hurricane Rita, the second lift prevented flooding from Hurricane Ida,” Joey Wagner, a senior project manager with the Corps’ New Orleans District, said in an email to ANTIGRAVITY. “Without the levee lifts the levees would have been overtopped causing major flooding within the system for these two events.”

The South Lafourche levees holding for Ida caps decades of work by Curole to contend with a constantly shifting, sinking landscape, to balance and blend environmental, flood protection, economic, and cultural concerns, to mesh scientific studies and government regulations with real-life experience. “When you mix the best technical knowledge with the local knowledge, then you get the best truth,” Curole said.


Disappearance by Sinking

Visiting the South Lafourche Levee District office in February, the building still smelled of fresh paint from repairs to Ida-related wind damage. Curole’s office, which sits right at sea level, seemed oddly neat except for Louisiana maps, artwork, and photos of Fats Domino. Curole’s thoughts on Louisiana’s water issues pull from a range of sources, geographically and philosophically—from the Mississippi River to the Netherlands, from the Atchafalaya Basin to Bangladesh. When we spoke in February, the discussion moved from sediment diversions to Buddhism to Fats to scuba diving with a hacksaw.

The Levee District’s mission sounds simple: Keep water out of people’s homes and businesses. The basis for decisions: Is this the best, most cost-effective way to get this done? But the factors involved are complex and fluctuating, with a changing climate and evolving scientific knowledge. “You’ve got to look at the geology first, then biology, then sociology,” Curole said, all complicated layers that must work together to form the best solution.

The main culprit behind Louisiana’s land loss: subsidence—disappearance by sinking—at a stunning rate. The story of why begins with the Mississippi River. Curole, who has a degree in biology, still recalls the 1973 aquatic biology class in which he learned how South Louisiana was created by the river changing course and overflowing its banks. “I talk about how South Louisiana was built every chance I get,” Curole told a crowd at a retirement reception at his alma mater, Nicholls State University, in November 2022. His voice held a sense of reverence as he described the creation of the Mississippi River delta, soil flowing from a drainage basin that includes 31 states and two Canadian provinces. “Every drop of rain that falls can take sediment and bring it down here,” Curole said.

Curole cites Buddhism—the idea that nothing is all good or all bad, that it’s all a matter of perspective—in reckoning with the formation of the delta, followed by the leveeing of the Mississippi River after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The levees cut off the flow of new soil onto Louisiana’s naturally compacting land. “We’ve had a lot of cures that have caused greater harm than the original problem,” he said.

Oil and gas extraction began ramping up in the 1930s, exacerbating the catastrophe. Other contributors: hurricanes and tropical storms, canals and shipping channels, invasive species, rising seas. South Lafourche has sunk 3 to 5 feet, depending on the location, in the past 100 years, Curole said. With much of lower Lafourche now ranging from a few feet above sea level to 8 feet below, there’s not much leeway. Subsidence accounts for roughly two-thirds of elevation loss, Osborn said.

Without the levee system, more land within the system would be converted to open water. A regular high tide would cover parts of LA 1, the only roadway into and out of Port Fourchon and Grand Isle, in at least 1 to 2 feet of water, Curole said. “The vulnerabilities are just enormous,” Osborn said, placing Lafourche among Louisiana parishes that cannot exist without flood protection. “So many communities could flood even on a blue-sky day.”


Windell Curole holds maps of the Louisiana coast dating back to the 1830s. Curole and an engineer digitized the older maps to get a better look at how the coastline has changed over centuries.


Curole learned guitar on a shrimp boat, practicing chords and John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” over the noise of a 6-cylinder engine. How often does music intersect with levee work? “All the time,” Curole said.

He’s written a song, “The Big Razoo,” about environmental work. As guitarist and frontman for the Hurricane Levee Band, he played events for coastal causes. He’s also penned liner notes for albums by Houma blues guitarist Tab Benoit and his Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, a group of iconic South Louisiana musicians assembled by Benoit to draw attention to Louisiana wetlands loss through song. In the liner notes, Curole makes a plea for listeners to help save South Louisiana, the region that produces this music.

Osborn remembers he and Curole surveying levees or checking a project, and “then Windell takes out his guitar.” Curole and others would break out their instruments for singalongs following levee board conferences in New Orleans, Osborn said. Curole’s creative work also includes a play, a children’s book, and a series of photography books and a co-authored journal article documenting the 1893 Cheniere Caminada hurricane. Protecting and preserving a vulnerable area like Lafourche requires creativity—keeping an open mind, thinking on your feet, and paying attention, Curole says. He seeks information from the experts—climatologists and geologists, among others, and says he’s learned a lot from project managers and others with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But he combines that knowledge with expertise from locals and his own experiences on the ground. “It’s good to have equations and plans, but all those things, computer models, they’re all reflective of reality,” he said. “And nothing represents reality like reality. So go study when an event happens and find out.”

For example, during Ida, “the wind was blowing at least 140 miles per hour and I saw some things I’d never seen before. I saw some gouges out of the levee,” he said, and wondered if the powerful wind combined with waves for a pressure-washing effect. When we spoke, he told me he was trying a new blend of grasses on the levees, to see if interspersing Bermuda with another type will provide a sturdier grip on the soil.

His repair methods have also taken offbeat turns. “When I used to scuba dive, if something fell in here, I would come and get it,” he said atop the lock, pointing to an area of soupy brown water with a visibility that had to be near zero. Curole has retrieved tires and tools, and once, dove in with a hacksaw to remove a piece of wood from a pump. “I sawed it off and solved the problem.”


Riding with Curole around South Lafourche, I thought back to my first levee trip with him in 2006, when I was working as an environmental reporter for The Courier in Houma. The tour felt like a glimpse into Curole’s world: the radio tuned to Larose-based KLRZ 100.3 (to keep up with the latest local talk), the terrain through the windshield grass-covered, horizon set at a 45-degree angle as the vehicle grumbled along the side of the levee. Curole issued a steady stream of information, much of it new to me, even though I grew up in upper Lafourche. His passion for his work was evident, a fervor tied to watching a homeland vanish. “We can’t be passive,” Curole said during his retirement speech. “If we don’t actively work to keep our communities, they disappear.”

South Lafourche sits at the end of Bayou Lafourche, a 106-mile former path of the Mississippi River. The waterway was originally called La Fourche des Chetimaches and served as a passageway for the Chitimacha tribe, among others. European settlers arrived in the early 1700s, followed by Acadians expelled from Nova Scotia.

The southern reaches of the bayou have lengthy ties to commercial fishing and, more recently, oil and gas production. The South Lafourche levee system protects a region critical to the seafood industry and to meeting the country’s energy demands. The system surrounds a stretch of LA 1, the only roadway into and out of Port Fourchon, which services over 95% of the Gulf of Mexico’s deepwater energy production, serves as the onshore base for the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), and plays a role in providing about 16% of the country’s oil supply, according to the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. These economic interests are often pitched as reasons to protect and preserve South Lafourche, but the area also boasts its own flavor of Louisiana culture. Drive from my hometown of Thibodaux to Golden Meadow, and the landscape, lingo, and livelihoods change. The bayou widens, sugarcane turns to marsh, and shrimp boats bob next to the highway.

A number of South Lafourche natives, Curole included, have a lineage impacted by major hurricanes, notably the Cheniere Caminada hurricane of 1893. The storm made landfall just west of Grand Isle, killing 2,000 people and destroying the fishing village of Cheniere Caminada. Most of Curole’s great-grandparents were among the survivors who moved inland. Three of his four grandparents grew up in Leeville, the community essentially wiped out in 2021 by Ida.

“People are leery of trying to rebuild on something that’s eroding day by day,” said Gail Serigny Hayes, longtime owner of Gail’s Bait Shop in Leeville, who moved to Houma after Ida. Contending with land loss coupled with storms “is like a human being fighting God [and] Mother Nature,” she said.


Curole hails from Cut Off, a community that exists due to a retreat from the coast. He grew up in a fishing family, catching shrimp to fund his biology degree. In his retirement speech, Curole remembered a childhood spent catching crabs and trout with relatives. “Those things are what make you want to make this thing work,” he said.

He started work as general manager of the South Lafourche Levee District in 1980. “I was going to give it six months and see if I liked it,” he said. The Levee District was established in 1968, three years after Hurricane Betsy’s hit prompted the Corps of Engineers to begin building hurricane-protection systems. When Curole started the job, the South Lafourche levee system was incomplete and still tied into parish drainage levees about 3 to 5 feet high. The Levee District had just installed the Leon Theriot Floodgate (now the lock) when Hurricane Juan hit in October 1985. The slow-moving storm topped the drainage levees, but not the new hurricane-protection levees, and the new floodgate helped keep flooding down, Curole said. The levee system, known as a “ring levee” because its elliptical shape encircles the area, was completed in 1993.

Curole pushed to turn the Leon Theriot Floodgate into a lock—where a pair of gates allow boat traffic to and from Port Fourchon while still preventing flooding—to contend with increasing flood threats due to subsidence. As the land sank, the area began seeing more flood threats not just from storms but from south winds pushing water inland.

In the 1980s, flood threats prompted closure of the floodgate about 80 days each year, Curole said. The Levee District now closes the floodgates of the lock at least 200 days a year. “It’s gotten worse and worse and worse, because the land has sunk more and more,” Curole said. “It’s unbelievable, the change.”


“I got a guy in South Lafourche”

These kinds of challenges, tending to varied needs and interests, led Curole to forward-thinking, integrated approaches. Perhaps due to a background in biology and coastal management, Curole early on gravitated toward blending coastal restoration work with hurricane protection. He was an early proponent of using sediment dredged to maintain shipping channels and canals to build up fragile wetlands and protect levees from erosion.

“Marsh is good wherever it is, but if it’s on the edge of a levee, if it’s on a road, it’s going to help hold onto those things,” Curole said. “And the levee protects the back side of the marsh.”

Coastal restoration and hurricane protection don’t work together all the time, Curole said, but “if you don’t try to make them work together, you never have a chance.”

“Windell was sort of ahead of his time with some of his ideas,” Reggie Dupre said. During his tenure in the Louisiana Senate, Dupre became known for his work to restore the coast and boost hurricane protection. Curole inspired a substantial number of coastal bills, he said. “Someone asked me where I got all my ideas. I said ‘I got a guy in South Lafourche,’” he recalled, chuckling.

Dupre credits Curole with pushing hard for particularly important coastal legislation, the legislation that would pave the way for Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states to secure a share of revenue generated by offshore energy production in the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) of 2006, Louisiana received less than 1% of revenues produced from offshore drilling. GOMESA allows Louisiana and three other Gulf Coast states to split 37.5% of those revenues (compared with the 50% kept by inland states). The money goes toward hurricane protection and coastal restoration projects. Then-U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) had been pushing to gain a share of offshore revenues for years, and Curole was an adamant backer of the idea, even before Hurricane Katrina, Dupre said.

“People thought he [Curole] was nuts,” Dupre said. “How can somebody in South Lafourche, depending on the oil and gas industry, consider this?” Dupre said in late 2004, he and Curole were among a group of local leaders on a call with then-U.S. Congressman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) to discuss the idea. “Billy said, ‘Have y’all lost y’all effing minds?’” Dupre recalled. “And he hung up on us… After Katrina, I said, ‘Windell, now is the time,’” Dupre said, citing support from the state legislature and then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco. “I’ve proposed over 200 bills, but this is the bill that’s framed and hanging on my wall: the constitutional amendment that became GOMESA,” he said. “It was a huge, huge effort. Windell was very much a part of that.”

Another reason the levees stood high enough for Ida: GPS, and Curole’s embrace of the new technology. Accurate elevation information is essential to providing flood protection but, prior to GPS, brass benchmarks were used to measure elevation—and the brass benchmarks were sinking along with the ground. Curole said around 2012, he was noticing a mismatch between the supposed levee heights and local water levels. “The water looked higher than it should for those elevations,” he said. LSU geologist Roy K. Dokka was promoting GPS as a tool for more accurate measurements, and Curole latched on. Though the benchmarks showed most of the South Lafourche levees were at the designed heights, GPS revealed they were 18 inches too low. Curole could have just checked boxes and left the levees too low, Dupre and Osborn said.

“Windell could’ve just acquiesced and used the existing benchmarks but he wanted to improve the system,” Osborn said.

The South Lafourche levees are federally authorized to heights of 8.5 feet on the northern end and 13 on the southern end. But when Hurricane Ida slammed into the system on August 29, 2021, the levees were at least 13 feet high on the northern end and 16 on the southern end, with some areas bolstered to 18 feet, Curole said. These additional “lifts” were unauthorized.

How did Curole determine the new heights? An internet search. Curole said he researched the highest storm surges to hit the Gulf Coast and the highest to hit Louisiana. He found only two or three storms with surges over 16 feet had hit Louisiana, and roughly 10 along the Gulf Coast. Sixteen feet seemed like a height the Levee District could afford, he said. “And we needed every inch of it to survive this last storm,” Curole told Fox 8’s Bernard post-Ida.


Curole and the South Lafourche Levee District have done unapproved work to improve the levee system stretching back to at least 2006. In summer 2006, Curole defied the Corps and state transportation department, continuing unauthorized work to bolster the system ahead of the peak of hurricane season. “We can’t just sit on our hands and wait for approval,” he said that summer.

Katrina led the Corps to institute more stringent—and much pricier—standards for levees, but the South Lafourche Levee District was left out of post-Katrina federal aid to fund the improvements. In addition, a study is needed to determine exactly how the post-Katrina standards apply to the South Lafourche levee system, including how high the levees should be, but Curole said that study has never been done. The Corps confirmed such a study is still needed.

In the meantime, the South Lafourche Levee District in 2006 asked voters to approve a one-cent sales tax to fund levee work. The measure saw over 80% approval. Levee District began improving the system on its own, working to elevate the levees above authorized heights using the sales tax, GOMESA funds, and state money. The Levee District did eventually receive $29 million in federal funding, around 2008, that helped raise parts of the system.

Curole worked with Dupre to create legislation allowing for more cost-effective levee work, including a bill that allows greater use of in-house equipment and resources. Curole said he’s also devised other ways of saving money through dividing projects into smaller contracts. “We’ve been able to build between $4 to $10 per cubic yard where almost everybody else is building $20 to $60 per cubic yard,” he said.

Though Curole and the Corps agreed the South Lafourche levees needed improvements, they diverge on the importance of certain new—and costly—design requirements for earthen levees. The Levee District’s cost-cutting methods include using dirt sourced from near the levees, as was the Corps’ practice pre-Katrina, instead of more-compacted dirt in line with federal post-Katrina requirements. Curole said he disagrees with a finding in the post-Katrina Interagency Performance Evaluation Taskforce (IPET) report that led to stricter standards for earthen levees, including the requirements for more compacted soils with higher clay content, which are much pricier. Curole believes the design of the region’s federal earthen levees is effective, that the levees are strong enough without the costlier dirt, but that they do need to be higher. Even if the sturdier materials are better, Curole said he would sacrifice some sturdiness for higher levees. “Elevation is the salvation from inundation,” is one of his Windellisms. Another: “Dirt is better than air.”

Wagner, who recites both of those Windellisms while on the phone with me, said, “It’s not dirt to us. It’s soil.” And the soil must meet post-Katrina standards. “The Corps’ perspective is that if the levees do overtop, we want the levees to still be standing afterward,” he said. “They need to be strong as well as high.”

In fall 2010, the levee system failed its inspection due to unauthorized work, according to Corps officials. The Corps identified “several critical deficiencies” including use of substandard materials and slopes that are too steep. In early 2011, the levee system became decertified, or lost “active” status in the Corps’ Levee Rehabilitation Program. This means federal money cannot be used on the project, and the Corps cannot make repairs to the levee system.

Over the years, “we got a lot of unauthorized work letters,” Curole said, as he and the Levee District continued making repairs and improvements without always waiting on permission from the Corps. Curole said he’s learned a lot from the Corps, but looks for ways to tackle challenges by being “a little creative.” The Corps once sent the Levee District a cease and desist order, threatening legal action if the district did not stop unpermitted work on a floodwall along the Intracoastal Waterway, Curole said. The Levee District was raising the wall and making improvements to avoid the floodwall failures seen in Katrina. Curole said the Corps removed the order once the agency saw the work.

Though at odds with some of Curole’s methods, Wagner, who has worked with Curole for over 20 years, said Curole is “an honorable guy” and the two have always had “a great working relationship” despite their disagreements. “It’s never gone personal,” he said. “He’s not hiding anything from us. He’s not lying to us. He has open lines of communication with us.”

The Corps has rules and processes that must be followed, Wagner said, stressing that Curole works from the heart. “He’s doing what he feels is best for the citizens of South Lafourche. His family has endured the worst, he’s seen the worst,” Wagner said. “I’ve never walked a mile in his shoes.” Wagner said the Corps does allow some deviations, but those deviations must follow the Corps’ process for approval and show the work meets post-Katrina standards rules.

“The system has been tested three or four times with the levee lifts he’s done and they haven’t failed,” but South Lafourche residents are living with that risk, Wagner said. “It’s a big risk.”

Standing outside the Levee District office in February, Curole put it more bluntly: “If people die, that’s on me—so I’ve got to try to do my best.”


While obviously pleased that the levees held, Curole was alarmed that so many failed to evacuate. “About 40% of the population stayed for Ida, which is crazy,” he said. “We can’t depend on this levee for a Category 4 hurricane. If it would’ve been a 3-foot higher storm surge, could’ve been hundreds of people killed.”

Curole is also frustrated that despite zero NFIP claims within the levee system, flood insurance rates rose regardless. “They’re raising the rates because they say our levee’s not good enough. It is good enough,” Curole said, his voice rising. “They say we can’t handle a 100-year-storm and yet we handled a 300-year storm.” The system held for a direct hit by Ida, a Category 4 hurricane tied for the fifth-strongest ever to hit the mainland U.S. in terms of wind speed (150 mph) at landfall. Ida is tied with Hurricane Laura and the 1856 Last Island Hurricane as strongest to hit Louisiana.

Curole used a similar playbook to help kickstart a hurricane-protection system in neighboring Terrebonne Parish, where he served as interim director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District in 2008. Terrebonne leaders had been fighting for decades to gain federal authorization and money for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project, to become the parish’s first true hurricane-protection system. Meanwhile, the low-lying parish flooded repeatedly from storms. Curole urged leaders to begin building without federal permission, using a half-cent sales tax approved by Terrebonne residents. The addition of true hurricane protection has saved the parish from flooding and likely prevented at least $1 billion in flood insurance claims, Dupre said.


Filmmaker Glen Pitre, who grew up with Curole in Cut Off, spoke at the fall 2022 retirement event, describing Curole as “one of those rare people” with a breadth of technical knowledge but who “never forgets” the inner impacts of living in an endangered place.

Pitre said he and his wife, Michelle Benoit, were hired to create a Katrina anniversary film but told not to focus on the storm. Pitre said he and Benoit were confused, but Curole immediately understood where the focus needed to be, Pitre said.

Curole knew “the real story is what happens in here,” Pitre said, pointing at his head. “It’s the human element, it’s what the high water does to your attitude, the way you live, to what you allow yourself to hope for… that’s the story and that’s the story this man never forgot.”



Top photo: Windell Curole stands at the bottom of the Leon Theriot Lock in Golden Meadow, Louisiana, which marks the southern end of the levee system. Curole uses this vantage point to show the difference between the terrain within the South Lafourche levee system and the land without. Behind Curole, Highway 1 runs through the unprotected part of South Lafourche, which is fading into the Gulf of Mexico.

Bottom photo: Photos of Fats Domino displayed in Windell Curole’s office at the South Lafourche Levee District in Galliano, Louisiana. The first photo shows Curole visiting Fats Domino at his West Bank home around 2012. The two sang “Jambalaya (on the Bayou)” together.


photos by James Cullen

 

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