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.
Power could be out 6 weeks for some:Rescue boats fan out across Louisiana amid Ida flooding
“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, Louisiana, 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
Man in canoe rescues dozens
Paul Middendorf, a volunteer with CrowdSource Rescue, a Houston-based nonprofit, said he spent nine hours early Monday in LaPlace, Louisiana, rescuing dozens of people stuck in their attics and bringing them aboard his canoe.
Middendorf said he drove from Houston to Baton Rouge Sunday and spent the night in a parking garage before making his way to LaPlace. Middendorf said he set out to conduct rescues in the early morning hours, when said he didn’t see any other rescue groups.
Hundreds of people were trapped in attics in the neighborhood, where some homes saw ten 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, in the roof,” 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, with the military and Coast Guard pulling people out of the water with helicopters, Middendorf said.
“It’s real bad. It’s real bad out there,” Middendorf said.
‘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. 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 his daughter’s house, who had evacuated to Texas. At both houses, they took photos of as much as they could before they began attempting to clear 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 each other rake debris
In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, residents cleared out their yards Monday morning. Toppled trees and foliage littered the roadways as neighbors helped each other 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, only to look over at what remained of 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, continued to tell people “whenever the inspection is done.”
– Kirsten Fiscus, Lafayette Daily Advertiser
‘We’ll be all right’
New Orleans residents faced a massive cleanup effort 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 one-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.”
– The Associated Press
‘It was like a freight train’
Josh Welch, 39, of Anacoco, Louisiana, 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 weather conditions worsened.
“It was a long night,” Welch, who had no cell service, said in a call on wifi Monday morning. “It was like a freight train running through our boat.”
The storm busted 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 in water.
“It looks like a big ole pond,” he said.
‘We didn’t think it would get this bad’
Jaki Sikaffy lost cell service at her home in LaPlace, Louisiana, 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 away 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 dyer to weather Ida’s wrath. 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 added.
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, the couple was surveying the damage to their home. Ida’s winds peeled their roof back. The stained glass windows in the bathroom; smashed.
They’d heard more rain was on the way, and they worried the floodwaters 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, New Orleans resident Dartanian Stovall examined the house that collapsed with him inside during the height of Hurricane Ida.
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 and despite the loss of the home.
“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-Chênes with seven others. Naquin, the Traditional Chief of the Isle De Jean Charles Tribe, watched Ida rip shingles from his home and peel away the front side of his house.
“I saw bits and pieces,” Naquin said. “My neighbor’s house broke in half.”
Naquin doesn’t believe there will be much of the houses left.
– Melissa Brown, Lafayette Daily Advertiser
For families lucky enough to avoid Ida, a birthday party fills time
In Duson, Louisiana, Elsa Lopez and a several members of her extended family – from Lafayette to Abbeville – converged Sunday evening at the home of her son Reynieri Castro.
Much of the family, including Lopez, lived in mobile homes around the area, which could be dangerous even without hurricane-force winds. Castro was the only one who had a home with a solid foundation.
“Yesterday I was announcing that anyone who needed refuge or help, we would be available for them, supporting the Latino community,” Castro said.
Instead of evacuating like they had for previous hurricanes or anxiously awaiting incoming weather, the family secured the trampoline and playset in the yard, fired up the grill and settled in for a barbeque of ribs, salchichas (sausages) and salsa — and of all things, a hurricane birthday party.
Lopez’s granddaughter, Marielsy Castro, turned 16 on Sunday, born the same day the last hurricane, Katrina, devastated New Orleans — although she was born in Honduras, and not Louisiana.
“I didn’t even realize it was the same day,” she said, “Until I starting seeing TikToks about the anniversary.”
– Nicole Foy, Austin American-Statesman
South Louisiana family finds safety
As families from south Lousiana moved north in preparation for Hurricane Ida, one Vacherie family found safety in a Holiday Inn in downtown Shreveport.
A Katrina survivor, Nikeia Washington made the decision to leave their home with her daughter, two grandchildren, her mother, two sisters, two nieces and a nephew, and set off to find safety. But she was unable to convince her husband and son to evacuate.
“They wanted to stay, but we decided to get out,” Washington said.
Ida made landfall as a category four exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts.
– Makenzie Boucher, Shreveport Times