Hurricane Veterans Were Stunned by Ida: ‘It’s Never Been as Bad’
Some small towns outside New Orleans were inundated. Trapped residents waited for daylight, when rescue boats could make their way through the floodwaters.,
JEFFERSON PARISH, La. — Jordan Roque pulled his Chevy pickup truck onto the last stretch of highway outside of town that was not inundated by water on Monday, hauling an airboat. Hurricane Ida had turned the road into a makeshift boat launch, and Mr. Roque was on a mission to find his relatives.
His aunt and uncle, Diane and Buddy Nolan, had ridden out the fierce Category 4 storm at home in the hardy fishing village of Jean Lafitte. No one had heard from the Nolans since Sunday morning, and now the village, along with much of the southeastern Louisiana bayou area, was underwater.
The authorities had rescued more than 70 people in Jean Lafitte and the surrounding communities, said Cynthia Lee Sheng, the Jefferson Parish president, after eight feet of water overtopped levees, sending several hundred people into attics and onto roofs. At least one person, an older woman, died in her home, Ms. Lee Sheng said. The parish had received more than 200 calls for rescue since Sunday.
Across the path of Ida’s destruction, the weathered and storm-weary people of the northern Gulf Coast waded out of flooded communities on Monday and surveyed the damage left by one of the most fearsome hurricanes to strike the region since Katrina 16 years ago. New Orleans and its hardened storm infrastructure appeared to have held up, though the city had no electricity. But with parts of Louisiana still unreachable, the full extent of the wreckage remained unclear.
“It’s never been as bad as it is this time,” said Jesse Touro, 62, who was rescued from Jean Lafitte after riding out storms in town for the past 12 years. He sounded exhausted as he rode a parish bus to find some sort of shelter. “None of them like this one,” he repeated.
Several small towns in the southern half of the parish, outside the giant storm protection system encircling New Orleans and some of its suburbs, were inundated. Dozens of residents watched as floodwaters advanced, waiting for rescues that did not start until daybreak.
New Orleans itself had been bruised but not beaten. Tree limbs and debris clogged the streets from the Bywater neighborhood to Uptown. In the French Quarter, the streets seemed to have been washed almost clean. A few New Orleanians had begun venturing out to walk their dogs, ride bikes and assess the state of things early on Monday. Though the city looked sturdy and dry on the outside, many of the problems were unfolding indoors, where the lights could be out for days.
In Houma, a small city about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans, Craig Adams, 53, had planned to spend Saturday night in his beige trailer, but his daughter begged him at 9 p.m., as the storm’s arrival was imminent, to seek shelter somewhere sturdier. On Monday, he was thankful she had. The two-bedroom trailer was wrecked, with only the air-conditioner intact among piles of mangled furniture, kitchen supplies and personal belongings.
“Every little thing that I owned and had, it’s gone,” Mr. Adams said. “I’m going to have to start all over again. You always see other people going through this on the news. You never think it’s going to be you — until it is.”
Grand Isle, a narrow beachy islet of stilt-raised homes facing the Gulf of Mexico, near where Ida came ashore, could not be reached by road, which was underwater, or by air, because there was nowhere for a helicopter to land, said Sheriff Joseph P. Lopinto III of Jefferson Parish.
He sent the chopper anyway to see if it could spot his 10 deputies who remained in a bunker on the isle during the storm. There were reports that its roof had blown off. But the deputies gave the helicopter crew a thumbs up on Monday, Sheriff Lopinto said in an interview with WWL radio. He told The New York Times he might have his team drop radios by helicopter so deputies on the isle could communicate.
Ms. Lee Sheng estimated that about 40 people had chosen not to evacuate Grand Isle.
In Jean Lafitte, a village of about 2,000 people, about 400 residents initially refused the mandatory evacuation order, according to the sheriff. But he expected fewer actually stayed once they saw Ida’s strength.
“We did rescue missions all today,” Sheriff Lopinto said. “But the water has stabilized. It’s not coming anymore. In fact, it’s receding.”
Some of those who stayed behind still had no plans to leave. Cody Lauricella, a 30-year-old native of bayou country, sailed the 19-foot fishing trawler he usually uses to catch trout and flounder back and forth to Jean Lafitte throughout the day to help people get out. He went all the way to lower Lafitte, he said, but found few takers for a boat ride.
“There are a lot of people that are still there and OK, sitting on the porch, waving at us,” Sheriff Lopinto said. “It’s part of living in this community. They understand that.”
Mr. Roque felt certain his aunt and uncle, whom he lovingly described as “hippies,” would be all right. “They have good knowledge of what they’re doing,” he said. Their house, like others in the village, was elevated, and their neighbor had a boat.
But he worried anyway.
“They were being stubborn — everyone told them to leave, but they were like, ‘Oh, we’re staying,'” Mr. Roque, 23, said. “We just want to make sure.”
LaPlace, a town of quiet subdivisions on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River where many evacuees from New Orleans settled after Katrina, saw many of those homes mangled and streets flooded by Ida. On Whitlow Court, a strip of mobile homes, every truck attempting to drive down the street stirred a wake. The water was out. So was the electricity. No one had cellphone service.
David Sanford, who has lived in the neighborhood for eight years, considered himself something of a hurricane veteran, having lived on the Florida coast, in Pensacola, before moving to Louisiana. Even so, Ida terrified him. The storm had his mobile home vibrating — then it popped a skylight over the bathroom, dumping water inside.
“It was just rough,” Mr. Sanford, 64, recounted, sitting back on a dry patch at the end of the street on Monday. “This one right here was the worst one I’ve been in.” The wind was howling, he said, and seemed to never stop. “It didn’t slack up at all,” he said.
Lea Joseph took her children to try to sleep in the trembling car once the power went out; the wind was whipping her house, uprooting trees and peeling roof shingles.
“I felt bad because I should have left with my kids,” she said. “I’m scared. My son is crying. He kept asking, ‘When is the eye passing, when is the eye passing?'”
Her 13-year-old son, Cesar, showed videos he had shared with friends on Snapchat of the wind and water descending on the family’s home. In them, his 11-year-old brother, Juan, kept calling out, “Hold the door, hold the door,” terrified of the storm’s bluster.
“I was crying,” Juan recalled as he stood on the flooded street, the water lapping over his rubber boots.
“Never again,” Ms. Joseph said. “Never again.”
Richard Fausset reported from Jefferson Parish, La., Rick Rojas from LaPlace, La., and Patricia Mazzei from Miami. Edgar Sandoval contributed reporting from Houma, La.