'Everything collapsed': Post-Katrina refuge rocked by Ida

·3 min read
Aftermath of Hurricane Ida in Louisiana

By Devika Krishna Kumar

LAPLACE, La. (Reuters) -LaPlace, a Louisiana town on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, sustained relatively little damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That led some to view it as one of the safer places to live in the storm-battered area around New Orleans.

Hurricane Ida changed that perception forever, residents said on Monday, a day after the storm pummeled the community and left many residents needing to be rescued from their homes.

Madeline Brewer recalled the moment the storm hit Sunday night.

"The sky went black and what you could hear was a tornado," said Brewer, 30, shortly after she was able to escape from her home and reach dry ground in LaPlace's Cambridge neighborhood on Monday. "There was a whole tree that flew past."

New Orleans avoided widespread flooding from Ida, a destructive Category 4 storm packing heavy rains, extreme winds and coastal surges, thanks to upgrades made to its network of levees, gates and pumps in Katrina's aftermath.

LaPlace, which took one of the hardest hits from Ida, remained inundated on Monday. Some houses in the town were still surrounded by several feet of water, and many were crushed under large trees uprooted by Ida's more-than-100 mph winds. With cell phone service down since Sunday, residents waded through a meter or more of water to check on their loved ones.

Overhead, rescue helicopters assessed the damage and searched for survivors. On the ground, military trucks attempted to rescue families caught in the flood waters.

Aurejana Ceaser, a worker at the New Wine Christian Fellowship church in LaPlace, said the church became a makeshift shelter on Sunday night for about 90 people who were forced to flee their homes in LaPlace due to flooding.

"We didn't know the storm was gonna turn in our direction. It was scary," she said.

The church had enough water, cots, blankets and pillows for the night but was beginning to run out of supplies on Monday, according to Ceasar, prompting it to send eight buses of people to other area shelters.

Janius Kelson, 71, rested alongside other survivors in the parking lot of an empty shopping center after being rescued by a U.S. National Guard helicopter he waved down with a cut-up sheet.

"Everything collapsed last night. The roof came off. It was really hard," Kelson said. He said he hadn't been able to use his breathing device for a day, making his night extremely difficult.

Brandie Miller said National Guard members had to pull her and her three young children out through their window because the stagnant water in their home was full of snakes.

Miller said six feet of water flooded her downstairs when she tried to open the door to get help after her roof came off and her children's room caved in.

"We had to sleep on a wet mattress," she said, adding that she should have evacuated sooner.

Kerry Capdeboscq, 63, an air conditioning maintenance worker also rescued by the Army, said it had taken him three years to rebuild his home after Hurricane Isaac's destruction in 2012.

"This is way worse," he said, surveying the town's damage from Ida.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in LaPlace, Louisiana; writing by Julia Harte in New York; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Mark Porter and Richard Pullin)

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