Benny Cenac, Houma native on the Resilience of Louisiana


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Many Louisianans will tell you how proud they are to live in such a wonderful state – full of rich culture and history, warm weather, abundant wildlife and delicious food. But Louisianans have not been immune to their fair share of tragedies – namely, devastating hurricanes and now, the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing that has remained, however, through years of history in Louisiana is a culture of resilience among its inhabitants. 

Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever hit the United States. It is estimated that nearly 2,000 people died in the hurricane and flooding that followed in August 2005, and millions of others living along the Gulf Coast were left homeless. It caused $125 billion in damage, particularly in New Orleans and surrounding areas. Despite the devastating loss of life and infrastructure, many Louisianans will tell you that the tragedy brought them closer to their community and made them stronger than ever. 

In New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast, there is continued work on rebuilding sustainable communities that will be more resilient when they face future disasters. In fact, in 2013 New Orleans was an inaugural winner of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Culture of Health Prize for their efforts. 

One proud member of the Louisiana Gulf Coast community is Arlen “Benny” Cenac Jr., CEO and third-generation owner of Cenac Marine Services in Houma, LA. Benny Cenac was born and raised in Southern Louisiana and feels a deep connection to his state and community. His family has made Louisiana their home ever since his great-grandfather came to the state more than 100 years ago. Benny Cenac has witnessed firsthand both the state’s trials and triumphs and has always been amazed by the community’s bond and strength. 

“Hurricane Katrina was such a horrible tragedy,” said Benny Cenac. “But seeing how everyone came together, supported each other and promised to rebuild stronger than before – it was really moving.” 

As the 15-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina nears, Louisiana was yet again faced with another devastating disaster: one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S. 

Benny Cenac is proud of Louisianans’ ability to remain strong and courageous when faced with tragedy, whether it be hurricanes or COVID-19.
Despite billions of dollars in damage and thousands of lives lost in Hurricane Katrina, Louisianans emerged from the tragedy stronger than ever.

Although this year’s Mardi Gras celebrations were as festive as ever, the COVID-19 virus was likely transmitting across attendees unknowingly, worsening the incoming high number of cases in Louisiana. Many feared that New Orleans was going to face a situation like New York and take over as the epicenter of the virus in the U.S.

Despite the relatively early and fast-moving outbreak, the state has managed to begin slowing the spread better than many initially predicted at the start of the outbreak. Louisiana now has one of the highest rates of testing in the country, and Gov. John Bel Edwards has said that the state needs only a slight boost in testing to begin a slow and phased reopening of the economy.

To add to the good news, the New York Times developed a tracking system to categorize metropolitan areas where outbreaks are the worst or the best. The system identified several Louisiana cities as top-ranked for where new cases are decreasing the most, and one of those cities was Benny Cenac’s hometown of Houma. 

Benny Cenac and the Fight Against COVID-19

Benny Cenac feels grateful to his community for preventing what could have been a much more devastating outbreak. He applauded the hard work of the health care workers on the front lines, but also thanked the everyday Americans hunkering down at home to slow the spread. 

“I once again saw an incredibly strong community do what they had to do to keep everyone safe and healthy,” Benny Cenac said. “It really is a special place.”

Benny Cenac is proud to come from a state of resilience, where people are stronger together in the face of tragedy.
Despite an early and fast-moving COVID-19 outbreak, Louisiana has shown signs of beginning to slow the spread and flatten the curve.

Although the numbers have hinted that Louisiana may have the worst of coronavirus behind them, Benny Cenac cautions the community to continue following the guidelines of the state and local health authorities. 

“We’re doing well, but we’ve got to keep doing well,” Benny Cenac said. “We still have a long way to go.” 

Benny Cenac is also grateful for the many Louisianans staying home because it has allowed his workers at Cenac Marine Services to continue doing their job as safely as possible. Cenac Marine Services is considered an essential business during COVID-19, as work in the maritime industry is necessary to keep the economy functioning. 

In fact, tugboats played an essential role in getting the USNS Comfort Navy hospital ship out of the port in Norfolk, Virginia and docked in New York City so it could start receiving patients. This required crew, a captain and other workers to show up and risk their health so they could help others. Without the work of these essential maritime workers, the 1,000-hospital bed ship would have never made it to New York City. 

“As always, I’m proud to be a Louisianan,” Benny Cenac said. “I hope everyone continues to follow safety guidelines and practice social distancing, and we will come out of this stronger than ever before.”

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