First Katrina and now Ida: Some residents think about giving up

·3-min read
Aftermath of Hurricane Ida in Louisiana

By Devika Krishna Kumar

GRAND ISLE, La. (Reuters) -Jim King, 75, surveyed the damage to his home on Grand Isle, Louisiana, on Thursday, a house he rebuilt himself after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago.

Hurricane Ida wrought new havoc this week. King said he and his wife have just about had enough.

He was stuck on the deck of his home after Hurricane Ida ripped off the stairs that gave him access to the road below. He flagged down a helicopter and asked for a ladder to descend to the road.

"These storms are only going to get more powerful," King said, marooned on his deck after the steps leading to the road below were obliterated by Ida.

He said his wife wants to talk about "whether we continue to live here. And I agree."

King spoke as shattered communities across southern Louisiana were still assessing storm damage from Ida on Thursday as floodwaters had yet to recede in many places four days after the hurricane knocked out power to a million homes and businesses.

The Category 4 hurricane came ashore on the barrier islands and swampy lowlands known as the bayou, where many small towns are difficult to reach even without roads being clogged with fallen trees, power lines and debris hurled about by gusts of wind that reached 172 miles per hour (276 kph).

Ida leveled Grand Isle, a town of 740 on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, where officials said virtually every structure sustained damage and about 40% were destroyed. About three feet (one meter) of sand covered the island, rendering it uninhabitable.

Around 600,000 people had no water and another 400,000 were advised to boil their tap water before drinking it, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said. At least nine deaths have been reported.

On Grand Isle many had roofs blown off and some were reduced to rubble. Downed power lines lay tangled along the only road onto the island where Paul Delise, 52, owns a vacation home.

"The inside is all tore up. I don't know if it's restorable," he said. "Nobody around here has seen anything like this. I lived through Katrina and as bad as it was it wasn't a wind event like this. This place is never going to be back how it was."

Kendall Simoneaux, 49, a maintenance worker at the Hurricane Hole Hotel on the island, said his team planned to bring in excavators and bulldozers. "The debris is easy to pick up but it's the sand. It's heavy. It's almost like cement," he said.

Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng told a news conference after flying over Grand Isle and the rest of Ida's path on Wednesday that the community was "broken."

"We don't have electricity. We don't have communication. We don't have gas or water, and sewer systems are very fragile," Lee Sheng said.

Wrecked neighborhoods looked like "a little pile of matchsticks," she added.

President Joe Biden was scheduled to survey the destruction for himself on Friday, when Edwards said he would present a long lists of needs.

Louisiana hospitals were already crowded with COVID-19 patients and short of nurses before Ida. Edwards said 2,447 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized on Wednesday, including 446 on ventilators.

The Louisiana Department of Health said Thursday that four nursing home residents who had been evacuated to a warehouse used as a shelter in Tangipahoa Parish recently died, with three of the deaths related to the hurricane, and one under investigation.

The department said it was investigating seven nursing homes for sending over 800 residents to the warehouse, where conditions were so bad a rescue operation had to be launched to remove them from the facility.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in Grand Isle; additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Tim Reid; Editing by Howard Goller)

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