Trapped in a laundry room as terrified people screamed for help outside. Howling winds shearing away the front of a house. Crawling out from the wreckage of what was once a home.
Those are just some of the harrowing experiences survivors recount after Hurricane Ida’s devastating smash into southern Louisiana.
As day broke Monday, residents emerged from their homes to assess the damage as others, heeding the call of local officials, remained inside to make way for rescue operations. More than 1 million homes and businesses were without power across a swath of Louisiana and Mississippi, and thousands of people were in shelters.
Ida is tied for the fifth-strongest hurricane to ever hit the U.S. mainland and struck 16 years to the day after deadly Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The storm was downgraded from a Category 4 hurricane to a tropical storm early Monday.
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“We’ve just been through a horrendous night with winds, rain, gusts, water coming up, rivers rising, power outages. It’s incredible,” Mike Cooper, president of St. Tammany Parish, said in a Facebook video update Monday. “Unless you have an emergency reason to be out on the highways, please refrain from being outdoors this morning and today.”
‘The tree fell first. Boom’
In Houma, Paten Neville leaned against the mailbox outside his mother’s home Monday afternoon with a cigarette between his fingers. Yards away, his classic white Chevy Caprice was barely visible underneath a tree that was uprooted by Hurricane Ida’s winds.
“It was horrible,” said Neville, 34. He stayed at his mother’s house with at least six other family members, children and adults. They spent at least half the storm underneath the carport.
“The tree fell first. Boom. Then after a while, the roof (was) flying off (and) water started pouring through,” he said.
Neville said the water that poured in could be measured by buckets.
He and his family have stayed for hurricanes before, he said; they even stayed through Hurricane Katrina years ago. Neville said Katrina was worse because of the flooding; Ida, however, appeared to be mainly a wind event, at least in the Houma area.
– Emily Enfinger, Houma Today
Texas man in canoe rescues dozens in LaPlace
Paul Middendorf, a volunteer with CrowdSource Rescue, a Houston-based nonprofit, said he spent nine hours early Monday in LaPlace, rescuing dozens of people stuck in their attics and bringing them aboard his canoe.
Middendorf said he drove from Houston to Baton Rouge on Sunday and spent the night in a parking garage before making his way to LaPlace. Middendorf said he set out early in the morning and didn’t see any other rescue groups.
Hundreds of people were trapped in attics in the neighborhood, where some homes saw 10 feet of water, he said.
“There was still a few people that were in their attics that were waving to me through holes they had chopped in the ceiling,” Middendorf said. “A lot of these people went in the attic with nowhere to go. They were just there praying that the water would recede, and thankfully it did.”
Later in the morning, there was a “frenzy” of rescue activity as the military and Coast Guard pulled people out of the water with helicopters, Middendorf said.
“It’s real bad. It’s real bad out there,” Middendorf said.
‘We are always, always here to serve the community’
In Prairieville, Louisiana, Jazmine Milburn showed up to Frank’s Restaurant Grill & Bar for a late lunch Monday. It was one of the only places in Prairieville with electricity thanks to generators, and Milburn noticed all the cars and the lighted sign flashing “buffet” while driving around town. She wanted something to eat and a chance to get out of the house, where she had no power or cell service.
Milburn teaches chemistry at a local high school, and she doesn’t know when schools will reopen other than the two-day closure announced before Ida hit.
“I know we’re out til Tuesday, but there’s no service to know anything,” Milburn said.
Frank’s has a long history of serving others after storms like this, a member of the restaurant’s founding family said.
“Come rain, shine, hurricane, whatever the weather — we are always, always here to serve the community,” Deborah Dedman said. “We have done that since 1964.”
– Leigh Guidry, Lafayette Daily Advertiser
‘I’m still trying to process the last 48 hours’
Lafourche Parish was without power and phone service for much of Monday, after Ida’s high winds knocked down trees, power lines and phone service throughout the region.
Hundreds of people at two evacuation centers in the area spent the night with limited food, water and almost no bedding or sleeping supplies beyond what people brought with them. Many residents, including families with young children, sprawled on blankets or jackets on the hard linoleum floor, or tried to relax in metal chairs. Families claimed different hallways and corners of the high school, separated by groups in an attempt to maintain social distancing measures.
The staff at the Thibodaux High School shelter were expecting supplies and food from local charities Monday, but staff said they still needed more help, and volunteers.
“I’m still trying to process the last 48 hours,” Thibodaux shelter coordinator Amanda Metis said.
– Nicole Foy, Austin American-Statesman
‘I stay through all the storms’
Eileen Lirette strode through the foot of water pooling in her front yard in Terrabonne Parish, dodging downed tree branches and worrying what she might find inside her home.
“I’ll look in a minute,” she said Monday morning. “When I work up the courage.”
After a cautious peek inside, Eileen hurried through the house in relief. A few items in disarray, no water damage, no broken windows. Just a single branch that had punctured the ceiling directly in the bedroom, the sharp end pointed straight down toward her and her husband’s bed.
“We’re fortunate to just have that,” her husband, Randy Lirette said.
Randy drove further down the road to survey the damage at the home of his daughter, who had evacuated to Texas. At both houses, they took photos of as much as they could before they began clearing debris.
“I stay through all the storms,” Randy said. “I don’t run. I like my kids to run, but I don’t run.”
The Lirettes had stayed with family just 10 minutes away in Thibodaux for the night. Officials issued mandatory evacuation orders for Terrabonne and Lafourche Parishes, and a curfew was still in place Monday morning. But the roads slowly filled with residents returning to check on their homes or help friends who needed them.
That’s what people do, the Lirettes said, after a storm like this.
“I love Louisiana,” Randy said. “I’ll stay here the rest of my life. A hurricane ain’t gonna drive me away.”
– Nicole Foy, Austin American-Statesman
Neighbors help one another rake debris in Jefferson Parish
In Jefferson Parish, residents cleared out their yards Monday morning. Toppled trees and foliage littered the roadways as neighbors helped one another rake debris to the edges of the road.
Passersby stopped and gawked at the burned-out husk of a vehicle nearby the entrance of the Relais Esplanade Apartments, a crumbled, still-smoldering block of apartment units.
A bright sky hung over a police officer as he stood aside his patrol car, parked in front of the on ramp to the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Everyone who stopped had one question for him: “When will it reopen?” The officer, unsure, answered, “Whenever the inspection is done.”
– Kirsten Fiscus, Lafayette Daily Advertiser
‘We’ll be all right’
New Orleans residents faced a massive cleanup and possibly weeks without power. Whole toppled trees blocked streets, pulled down power lines, covered yards and damaged homes.
Sitting on a screened porch while listening to a battery-operated radio and feeding her 1-year-old daughter, Pamela Mitchell wasn’t sure what she would do. She had already spent a hot and frightening night at home while Ida’s winds shrieked. She was thinking about trying to leave. But her 14-year-old daughter, Michelle, was determined to stay, preparing to clean out the refrigerator and put perishables in an ice chest.
“We went a week before – with Zeta,” she said, recalling the hurricane that hit the city last fall. “So, we’ll be all right.”
– Associated Press
‘It was like a freight train’
Josh Welch, 39, of Anacoco, said he rode out the storm on a boat with four other men in Grand Isle. Welch said it was too late for his group to take shelter inland by the time the storm worsened.
“It was a long night,” Welch, who had no cellphone service, said in a call on WiFi early Monday. “It was like a freight train running through our boat.”
The storm broke one of the windows on the boat, Welch said. From his view on the water, Welch said, he saw a small cottage on its side, several signs turned upside down and the dock covered with water.
“It looks like a big ol’ pond,” he said.
‘We didn’t think it would get this bad’
Jaki Sikaffy lost cell service at her home in LaPlace Sunday night as Hurricane Ida pounded their neighborhood. She looked outside to see her black Dodge Charger, which had been parked next to her partner’s white Dodge Charger, float down the street. It was time to find higher ground.
Sikaffy, her partner, Solomon Smith, and their nearly 3-year-old pup, Walle, hunkered together atop their washer and dryer to weather Ida. The winds screamed and the rain pummeled their home. They got very little sleep curled up together.
“We didn’t think it would get this bad,” Smith said.
“In the six years we’ve lived here, it’s never flooded,” Sikaffy said.
Throughout the night, Sikaffy and Smith could hear people calling out for help.
“We just didn’t know if the winds were going to pick up again,” Sikaffy said. “It was the scariest part.”
They spent 12 hours in their laundry room. Soon after sunrise, they surveyed the damage to their home. Their roof was peeled back. The stained glass windows in the bathroom were smashed.
They had heard that more rain was on the way, and they worried that waters would continue to rise. So when given the opportunity to jump on a boat, they did, along with a neighbor.
“They make me want to invest in a boat and be a good Samaritan, for next time,” Sikaffy said as she watched one putter under the overpass. “Lord, bless them for the work they’re doing.”
The boat took them to a nearby hotel that was at capacity and without power.
“So we thought we’d take our chances on the road,” Smith said as he braced himself against the winds, clutching Walle under his arm like a football.
They carried several backpacks filled with what supplies weren’t ruined and carried food for Walle. They were starting their roughly 30-mile journey to Kenner, Louisiana, where Sikaffy’s mother lives, on foot. Sikaffy had no shoes on.
– Kirsten Fiscus, Lafayette Daily Advertiser
‘At least I’m alive’
Monday morning, Dartanian Stovall of New Orleans examined the house that collapsed with him inside at the height of the storm.
Stovall said he was inside the house he was renovating in the city’s Uptown neighborhood when he said the chimney collapsed and the rest of the house followed. Stovall said he managed to crawl to safety.
“At least I’m alive,” he said.
– Michael DeMocker, USA TODAY Network
‘My neighbor’s house broke in half’
About 68 miles southwest of New Orleans, Albert Naquin sheltered in Pointe-Aux-Chenes with seven others. Naquin, traditional chief of the Isle de Jean Charles tribe, watched Ida rip shingles from his home and peel away the front of his house.
“I saw bits and pieces,” Naquin said. “My neighbor’s house broke in half.”
– Melissa Brown, Lafayette Daily Advertiser