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Elderly woman refuses to leave her land as Rita approaches

MAURICE, La.—Ethel Mae Bourque was moving more slowly than Hurricane Rita on Friday afternoon, a bum leg and 72 years of hard rural living partly to blame. She'd spent the last two days stacking cans of tuna, grape juice and salt in a ramshackle cottage near her home trailer.

This was where she'd stay, with a sleepy dog named Rufus and three cats named by color, in the corner of a remote farming patch in southwestern Louisiana, during a storm whose way remained unpredictable.

"God, no, I am not leaving," said the crotchety Bourque, more offended by the question than by the storm. "I have been through bad hurricanes before. I still remember Audrey. I am not leaving my land."

Bourque has owned the land south of Lafayette, La., for 52 years, raising a family, chickens and cows and tending to a garden. She's lived alone nearly 30 years, straying off the land mostly to go to church.

The property, at the tip of an L-shaped dirt road, is precious to her and to developers who want a piece of earth on the Vermilion River. She said she'd paid $368 for it, five and a half acres in all. In 1979, her ex-husband offered her $45,000 for it; the answer, as it is with the strange men who come here regularly offering to buy: no.

Bourque, who spends her days singing old Cajun gospel tunes and chewing tobacco, is fighting to keep her land, whether it's from Rita or progress.

"If those developers didn't scare me off, a storm isn't either," said Bourque, who was worried more for one of her daughters who lived in Pascagoula, Miss., before Hurricane Katrina. She lost everything when the storm destroyed her mobile home.

Neighbor Eddie Young, who brings Bourque groceries and Tylenol, tried to convince her to evacuate.

"Miss Ethel Mae won't even think of leaving. She loves that place," he said.

If things got really hairy, Bourque planned to stay in a tin-roofed, 10-by-10-foot building next to the cottage, figuring she could hobble there quickly.

"I stayed in that shelter for Hurricane Lily," she said. "The trees may come crashing down, but this place will withstand it. I will be OK."


(Burch reports for The Miami Herald.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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