Amber Russo of LaPlace, La., was attending performing arts classes at Louisiana State University last Tuesday, excited to be getting her senior year of college underway. She had no idea that her world would be turned upside down less than a week later, when Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc across the state.
“It was so short notice, because it popped up out of nowhere,” Russo, 22, told Yahoo News. “I had to convince my mom at first to leave. I told her, ‘We’ve got to get the hell out of here.’ … This time last week I was going to college, having theater classes and having voice lessons, and this week none of that is happening.”
On Sunday evening — the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast — Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm and its 150 mph winds stretched across 45 miles. It destroyed countless homes and businesses and caused so much flooding that boats replaced cars in some parishes.
The entire city of New Orleans lost power Sunday night, and it may take weeks to restore in some areas. Two people died and 10 others were injured after a rain-battered highway collapsed in George County, Miss., late Monday.
But no community suffered more destruction than LaPlace.
LaPlace, the largest city in St. John the Baptist Parish, is located along the east bank of the Mississippi River, with a population of just under 30,000 people. The majority-Black parish was in the direct path of Hurricane Ida, leaving many residents stranded.
“The streets of LaPlace looked like a raging river, all while buildings swayed from the high winds, metal ripped away from rooftops and traffic lights looked like they would fly away into Oz during the catastrophic storm,” Newsweek reported.
Russo, her mom and two brothers are thankful to have gotten out of town. Now they’re more than 400 miles away from home in Hot Springs, Ark., a city they’ve never been to before, after evacuating from their home early Sunday morning. They’re staying in a rented space for now, thankful for two $50 donations they’ve received online that have helped them get by so far.
“It’s been stressful,” Russo said, adding that she’s previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia. She called the situation “scary, leaving us wondering what’s going to happen.”
The Russo family is hoping for the best when they return home this Friday, which Amber said they would do, “power or no power.” A neighbor who stayed in town told Russo that while her family’s backyard shed was destroyed, their home appears to be intact. Russo admits that many others are in a worse predicament than her family, especially those who were unable to flee Ida’s path.
All Sunday evening, Twitter users shared their addresses in desperation for help, many having to retreat into their attics as floodwaters rose 5 feet or higher in some homes. Dozens of messages, with some iteration of “Send help!” or “Help needed!” or “Urgent help!,” were shared like digital SOS alerts on social media to anyone who could offer any type of aid.
“It’s the worst that I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve been in the parish,” Randal Gaines, a state representative who represents St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes, told NBC News Monday. “And we’ve seen several hurricanes.”
By Monday morning, Parish President Jaclyn Hotard told the Times-Picayune that there were no known fatalities from “one of the most catastrophic” storms to hit St. John the Baptist Parish. Nearly 800 people were rescued through Monday, according to parish officials.
“We have been tested before, and we overcame,” Hotard said. “Please continue to pray for our community and know that we have all hands and resources on deck.”
While thousands of people evacuated the southern part of Louisiana ahead of the storm, many chose to hunker down. Some did so out of stubbornness, while others stayed because they had nowhere else to go.
Jessica Bowers and her family — including her two children — decided to outlast the hurricane from inside their mobile home in LaPlace. After not evacuating during Katrina and now Ida, Bowers told NBC affiliate KPRC-TV that the family is thankful to be alive.
“Never again,” she said. “Leave, evacuate.”
For those who lived through Katrina, Ida is one big nightmare all over again. But this time the spotlight wasn’t solely on New Orleans and its challenges.
“Don’t forget it isn’t JUST New Orleans that was destroyed,” one person tweeted. “Houma. LaPlace. Franklin. Baton Rouge. And many more. … These cities need attention and help too!”
One of the most active people on Twitter sharing the addresses of those in need along with resources was Keva Peters Jr. of St. Rose, La. Despite riding out a “scary and nerve-racking” Sunday night in his own home, he also continued to help others.
“I’m still trying my best to help others even while dealing with my own issues, but disasters like this take the community,” Peters told Yahoo News. “I was younger for Katrina, but I do remember how bad the aftermath was.”
Since Sunday, Peters has been “taking it day by day,” as the small group he is now with is low on water and food, and has no power and limited amounts of money.
“I was in a house with six people during the storm, and we had to hunker down in the stairway,” he said. “The upstairs floors were caving in, and everything on top was going to topple over us. The eye of the storm was about 15 miles west of us. Luckily, we were able to escape to a neighbor’s house after the roof caved in.
“A lot of people are shaken up badly, including myself,” he added. “The smallest sounds make my heart drop now, after going through the storm.”
St. Rose, a community of less than 10,000 people located in the St. Charles Parish along the east bank of the Mississippi River, is currently under a curfew that lasts from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., as first responders work to clean up the debris and assess damages in the community. Peters says that most people are without cell service, but Wi-Fi still works.
“What we’re going through isn’t unbearable, and we’re hopeful,” he said.
The devastation of past natural disasters, including Katrina, explains why Peters has been so determined to help others. He noted that many people who rode out the hurricane had no other choice, including himself.
“My mom couldn’t evacuate, so I had to choose between evacuating or staying with her. So of course I stayed, even though our town was under mandatory evacuation,” he said. “Others had no family to go to or no money to spend on leaving. Others who left had dealt with Katrina and didn’t want to experience this again.”
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images (2)
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