BAYOU CORNE — The mornings are early and the evenings are late for Samuel “Scott” Hood and his family.
The Hoods have been living at the Sheraton Hotel in Baton Rouge for weeks.
On Aug. 3, Assumption Parish officials ordered a mandatory evacuation of 150 homes after a large sinkhole appeared in the swamps between the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities.
Hood’s home weathered Hurricane Isaac with just a few lost shingles, but the long days in the hotel are exacting a tougher toll on his family.
Hood, 42, his girlfriend, and her three school-age children are maintaining a divided lifestyle split between Baton Rouge, where they live now, and Assumption Parish, where their friends live and their children attend classes.
The situation in which the Hood family members now find themselves means that the children, 8, 10 and 15, wake up at 4 a.m. to get ready for the hour-long commute to attend classes at Pierre Part Middle School and at Assumption High School in Napoleonville.
Homework gets done, Hood said, late after the students’ return commute to Baton Rouge or during a pause at the family’s house in Bayou Corne before the drive back to Baton Rouge. Extracurricular activities are at a minimum out of necessity.
“It’s rough, but we just got to do what we got to do until it gets straight,” Hood said.
He said he is considering moving in with his brother in Baton Rouge — where the family stayed for the first week of the evacuation — because of the cost of the hotel.
He said $875 weekly checks from an evacuee fund cover the hotel room, not the food, the gas and other expenses.
Hood also said he is considering moving back to Bayou Corne at some point, despite misgivings about doing so and his feelings that he must eventually move away from the bayou because of long-term safety concerns.
“I don’t want to be here, but then again, it’s too tough for all of us,” Hood said in an interview Thursday in the kitchen of his house in Bayou Corne.
“It’s wearing us out, and you don’t know how long this is going to last. This could last for a long time.”
Hood, his girlfriend, Samantha Hebert, and their dog, Shiloh, were in Bayou Corne Thursday to check on the house and pick up an assistance check.
The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources has ordered Texas Brine Co. LLC of Houston, owner of a salt cavern suspected to be the cause of the sinkhole, to drill an investigatory well to see what is happening in the cavern hollowed out from the Napoleonville Dome.
The 1- by 3-mile solid salt deposit was pushed toward the surface from an ancient sea bed and has been used for decades for brine production and hydrocarbon storage.
After some initial work, drilling into hard caprock, which is 377 feet underground and sits atop the salt dome, began about 10 p.m. Aug. 20, Texas Brine officials have said.
By Friday afternoon, drillers reached 1,403 feet underground, well into the salt dome and about 40 percent of the way to the cavern’s roof at a depth of 3,400 feet, parish officials said Saturday.
Drillers are expected to break through the cavern roof on Sept. 26, opening the door to tests DNR has required.
State and DNR officials have said they think the cavern failed, released its brine contents and caused the sinkhole and mysterious bubbles swirling to the surfaces of area bayous. Tests determined the bubbles contain natural gas.
Texas Brine also supports the evacuee fund under the terms of its cavern permit.
Patrick Courreges, DNR spokesman, reiterated on Friday that the “going assumption” seems to be that the cavern somehow failed and caused the sinkhole, but the agency and an advisory panel of scientists and experts are looking at other possibilities.
Bubble sites near the sinkhole, which is on Texas Brine’s property, have proliferated recently since the original batch of bubbles erupted about two months before the sinkhole appeared on Aug. 3.
Since Aug. 20, eight new bubble locations, including two close to the Bayou Corne community, have been found, bringing the total to 25 on Bayou Corne, Grand Bayou, Triche Canal and a bay near Triche Canal, parish officials said. Twelve sites are bunched in one area on Bayou Corne over a pipeline corridor.
The four latest bubble streams were found Thursday and Friday, parish officials said.
Living in two places has the grass a little higher than evacuees Preston, 66, and Vickie Guilbeau, 62, would like, but they have the good fortune to own a second house in Port Allen, where they are staying.
But the Guilbeaus’ house in Bayou Corne is near one of the newest bubble locations and the only bubble source found north of La. 70.
The onset bubbles and the sinkhole have given the couple a profound loss of their sense of safety and created uncertainty about what else may lurk in the Napoleonville Dome.
They said they are looking for a way out, though they believe they will not get the true value of their home if they sell.
On land purchased in 1987, their retirement home was the product of years of weekends of sweat and incremental work by Preston, a retired welder, and Vickie.
Along a dead-end tributary of Bayou Corne, across from aged cypress trees and with a pond, lemon and satsuma trees and a little garden of okra, the Guilbeau family’s house has ceased to be the idyllic home in the swamps they worked so hard to build, they said.
“That dream house went down into that sinkhole. That’s exactly what it did,” Vickie Guilbeau said.
“It just went right down with the sinkhole just like those two men (working to clean up the sinkhole) almost did.”
The Guilbeaus, Hood and some others have said they are interested in being bought out.
But Texas Brine officials have said it is too soon to talk about buyouts while the company focuses on the drilling operation.
The concept received a chorus of “No’s” from some residents during a community meeting last month in Pierre Part.
Parish Police Juror Henry Dupre, who represents the Bayou Corne area, said that he has talked to people who want to stay no matter what. While he said the Police Jury is working with DNR to start regular monitoring of abandoned caverns in the Napoleonville Dome, Dupre said his hope is that life can return to normal.
“That is all I can hope for right now,” Dupre said.