Lauren Leonard is no stranger to hurricanes. Houma’s memories of hurricanes date back to 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated southeast Louisiana.
Leonard, a digital advertising executive, still never understood the destruction a hurricane could cause – until Hurricane Ida.
Hurricane Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon as a Category 4 storm on August 29 – the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – with sustained winds of 150 mph. It was the fifth most violent storm to hit the continental United States, wreaking havoc from Louisiana to New York.
“When you see these reports of tragedies happening to people, you think, ‘that’s never going to happen to me,’” Leonard said. “But when it’s you, it’s almost hard to fully understand. I see pictures in the news of buildings I would go to every day or streets I was driving and I’m like, “Oh, that’s what they’ve been through. “
LSU students across Southeast Louisiana expressed difficulty understanding the destruction of Hurricane Ida. As power outages persist in hardest hit areas like Terrebonne Parish, Lafourche Parish and River Parishes, students and their families are uncertain of the future as they begin to rebuild.
University classes resumed after a hiatus of about a week to allow students to return from evacuation sites and assess damage to their homes. However, many students said getting back to campus was not their top priority.
“School is the last thing I think about right now,” said Jonah Brock, from Prairieville. “I have a million other issues that we have to overcome with my whole family [besides] work or school.
Although neighboring Baton Rouge, last-minute changes in the direction of Hurricane Ida made the storm more devastating than expected for Prairieville, with the first hurricane-related death reported there after a tree fell on a house, according to the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Sleeping during the storm was a test of patience for Brock, who evacuated to his aunt’s house just a few miles from her home. He was held back by thoughts of debris slamming into his room – right next to where a fallen tree ended up destroying his front patio and much of the roof of his family’s home.
The first estimate for the house to be habitable is four months, he said.
“It’s going to take a while until we get back on our feet and can go back to our own home,” said the second year of history. “This whole semester I’ll be dislocated. “
Less than a day after Hurricane Ida left, the university announced make-up days for the week of missed classes, either on Saturday or during the fall vacation.
A native of New Orleans and a sophomore political communications student, Ryan Castellon learned the news days later, while he and his family remained in Mississippi. He said he understood why the university made the decision to announce make-up days, but wanted the university to budget for more weather-related cancellations in the future.
“Sometimes steps are taken to prepare for inclement weather, but it doesn’t really seem like the university is preparing for the inevitable weather closures that happen every year and we all know they’re coming,” said Castellon.
LSU Provost Matthew Lee said the university is announcing remedial days as quickly as possible to give students, faculty and staff time to adjust their schedules.
“Our accreditation body requires that we adhere to a specific number of student contact hours, and so when we lose days, we usually have to make it up,” Lee said. “We are using days from the fall break, but also recognize that some students and faculty may have already had plans. “
These makeup days will take place virtually, Lee said.
Castellon had originally planned to stay in his apartment in Baton Rouge, waiting for the storm while doing laundry and napping. Calls from her family asking her to change her plans quickly flooded her phone.
The Castellon family have always viewed evacuation as an option of last resort, even during Hurricanes Katrina and Gustav – although, as he put it, “this storm was different.”
“All of a sudden I’m driving back to New Orleans, to leave the next morning for a random place in Mississippi until [Sept. 1]”said Castellon.
He said the damage to his home was minor compared to Katrina’s – water collected on the ground and shingles here and there blew off the roof. Their shutters were torn to shreds by the winds.
Although students in the parish of Terrebonne have had less fortunate experiences returning to their homes, where electricity is not expected to be restored for the majority of residents until September 29, Houma, its largest city, has experienced the one of the worst destruction caused by the hurricane.
“It was so hard to see places that don’t look the same from a distance. I’m not looking forward to the emotional toll of the comeback, ”said Leonard. “I almost feel guilty for being [in Baton Rouge] now.”
Mass communications junior Tyler Johnson was surprised to see that his childhood home in Houma suffered only minor damage compared to the rest of the city, where the roads are “untouchable” due to power lines broke down. Half of its roof was damaged, with only a few trees scraping the exterior.
“I saw pictures of buildings completely torn in half,” he said. “My friend’s neighbor, his house was completely cut in half. It’s like a dollhouse that you can open.
For Johnson, who continued to work at Lighthouse Coffee in Baton Rouge when half the state was without power, the scariest part of the storm was the cell phone and Wi-Fi outages that disconnected him from loved ones for days.
“It was mostly just worry because I would talk to them for five minutes and not talk to them for two days,” he said. “It freaked me out because for days I wouldn’t know if [my girlfriend or parents were] okay, if something happened because there was no service.
While students will not have to face such severe damage to their Baton Rouge residences, the cost of repairing their childhood homes and helping their families recover will be the main source of the burden. their concerns.
Castellon said he will likely have to get used to having his parents living out of state instead of just an hour’s drive in New Orleans – something he says will add to his anxiety to help. to recover despite the fact that his apartment near the campus remains unharmed.
“There is a kind of doubled anxiety to living in two places which are both directly in the path of the storm,” he said. “He passed through New Orleans and [then I had to] worrying about my apartment in Baton Rouge.
As electricity was cut in Southeast Louisiana, the gas stations that people rushed to run their generators – the places Castellon called “the epicenter of anxiety” – became iconic. the anxiety people felt during the hurricane. Waiting times at some gas stations have increased to four hours, according to student testimonies.
Despite weeks of uncertainty behind them and more to come, students from across Southeast Louisiana said they were seeing the best of humanity in their hometown, even though the lights remain dim in due to the decrease in the power of the generators and that the trees continue to lengthen on the roads and on the roofs.
Leonard said his grandfather’s friends cooked all day for their neighbors and strangers in need. While repairing his roof, his father was helped by strangers passing by.
“Seeing the humanity that has come out of my own community and other communities in Louisiana is what makes me love Louisiana so much,” Leonard said.
Corbin Ross contributed to this report.