Small Louisiana Communities Bear Brunt of Hurricane Ida

Flooded streets are shown in the Spring Meadow subdivision in LaPlace, La., after Hurricane Ida moved through Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. Hard-hit LaPlace is squeezed between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Jason Kane rode out Hurricane Ida in Crown Point, south of New Orleans, and though no water entered his house, which is raised 8 feet (2 meters) off the ground, he did see metal roofs, fencing and other chunks of large debris flying through the air outside.

“It was just nuts, man,” Kane said. “I mean, nothing like I’ve ever experienced.”

Kane had parked his two vehicles on high ground away from the house. On Tuesday morning, he went to check on them, paddling a boat as far as he could, then walking the rest of the way. Both had flooded, and neither would start.

“Guess I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

While New Orleans largely escaped catastrophic flooding during the storm, many smaller communities were not so lucky.

Residents in LaPlace, located along the west side of Lake Pontchartrain, retreated to their second floors or attics and took to social media to plead for boat rescues as the water rose around them.

An Associated Press reporter who flew over the city with Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday saw a scene of complete devastation: uprooted and splintered trees lying on houses, buildings with collapsed ceilings and no roofs, streets flooded with water and the contents of houses strewn across yards.

Trucks and boats on trailers began arriving on Monday to take people to safety. Among those rescued by boat were Debbie Greco and her family, including her elderly parents, all of whom had cowered on a stairway landing as Ida sent 4 feet (1.2 meters) of muddy water rushing into her home.

“God blessed us that we all survived,” she said.

Other residents got to dry ground by wading through knee-deep water carrying pets and other belongings.

Robert “T-Bob” Dampier, of Marrero, was among the local volunteers with boats offering to help with search and rescue efforts Tuesday.

“They’re down here at the top of their house, on the roof or wherever,” he said. “I got a boat. I’m willing. … I mean, if it was the other way around, you know you’d hope they’d do the same for you.”

Vincent Ochello and Evan Michel have been checking on neighbors by boat in Lafitte, a small community 25 miles (40 kilometers) from New Orleans.

The pair is going door to door to see how those who stayed behind and did not evacuate are doing. Michel is driving his boat through the flooded roads, and Ochello is broadcasting on Facebook.

“I’ve been live, going to everybody’s houses,” Ochello said.

New Orleans’ levee system — overhauled at a cost of billions of dollars after Hurricane Katrina breached it — held up against Ida’s rampage. Ida struck on the 16th anniversary of Katrina, which devastated the city and was blamed for 1,800 deaths in 2005.

But in LaPlace, work only recently began on a long-awaited levee project that isn’t expected to be completed until 2024.

In Lafitte, a small community south of Crown Point, even homes on stilts were flooded and residents had to use boats to navigate the submerged streets and retrieve their belongings. And in Houma, a city of about 30,000 people southwest of New Orleans, Ida’s winds had stripped the roofs off of businesses, apartment complexes and single-family homes.

On Grand Isle, the 40 residents, firefighters and police officers who rode out the storm remain stuck on the barrier island, but a helicopter flew over on Monday and several firefighters working to clear a road gave the people on board a thumbs-up, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto said.

It’s too soon to determine the full scale of Ida’s wrath in Lafourche Parish, where the hurricane came ashore, said sheriff’s office Capt. Brennan Matherne. The narrow parish with 96,000 people stretches 70 miles (nearly 115 kilometers) from Thibodaux to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Pretty much every home has damage. … It just gets worse as you go down,” Matherne said.

Ida made landfall just to the west of Grand Isle with a wind gust recorded at 172 mph (277 kph) and seawater swamped the island. The storm then moved up Highway 1 — the only road to the mainland — and the ribbon of asphalt through low-lying swamps remains impassible.

Edwards said local, state and federal boats, high water vehicles and aircraft rescued hundreds of people.

Many homes that did not flood or suffer other damage were still without electricity, and officials warned it could be weeks before the power grid is repaired.

More than 1 million customers in Louisiana and Mississippi — including all of New Orleans — were left in the dark. With water treatment plants overwhelmed by floodwaters or crippled by power outages, some places were also facing shortages of drinking water. About 441,000 people in 17 parishes had no water, and an additional 319,000 were under boil-water advisories, federal officials said.

Edwards urged evacuees not to try to return home, citing the widespread power outages, road closures and other dangerous conditions.

“The schools are not open. The businesses are not open. The hospitals are slammed. There’s not water in your home and there is not going to be electricity,” he said on Tuesday after touring LaPlace in hard-hit suburban St. John the Baptist Parish, where 80% of rescues took place. “So let’s get you where you can be safe and somewhat comfortable.”

Some residents vowed to rebuild after the storm, but Greco and her father, 85-year-old Fred Carmouche, said they are tired of the constant hurricane fears on the Gulf Coast.

“When I rebuild this I’m out of here. I’m done with Louisiana,” Carmouche said.

– Jay Reeves and Stacey Plaisance, AP

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