Hurricane Ida

August 29, 2021

From June to November the people living in coastal Louisiana are anxious about every tropical depression and wave that forms in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, realizing that any of them could develop into a hurricane that could devastate their communities. We stay in constant contact with weather services and monitor all tropical system development. In South Louisiana, it is never a question if you are going to be hit by a disastrous hurricane, but when. Like most of the old timers that have been through hurricanes we, (my family) were well prepared with electric generators and tanks of fresh water and plenty food in our freezers. We could be self sufficient for at least a month, but most of the people are unprepared thinking that it is not going to happen to them .

On August 23, 2021 a tropical wave developed in the Caribbean sea and quickly developed into Tropical Storm Ida by August 26 near the Grand Cayman Island. It rapidly developed into a hurricane on August 27 near Cuba and then entered into warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico quickly becoming a strong Category 4 hurricane. The hurricane track showed it coming directly to Houma. I had been through many major storms , Andrew in 1992, Camille in 1969, Betsy in 1965, Audrey in 1957 and I wasn’t afraid to ride out this one on Volumnia Farm; after all the house was built in 1898 and had weathered countless hurricanes and survived. There was always damage to roofs, trees and power lines but we always put things back to normal in a few months. It is just an accepted way of life in South Louisiana.

In the tropical waters the devils spawn

from the depths of hell a hurricane is born

The weather in the early morning of August 28 was normal South Louisiana weather, hot, humid with an occasional light rain shower and a slight North East wind. Everyone was feverishly working boarding windows, preparing electric generators and stocking up on food and water. An old brass naval barometer on the back porch that was over 100 years old was showing a barometric pressure 30.01 inhg but the satellite images on the TV showed the hurricane eye becoming more well defined with a projected straight line track to the coast of Louisiana and Houma. Around 11:30 am I checked the barometer again and the pressure was remaining constant. However, the noon weather report from the National Hurricane Center indicated warm water temperature near the coast and farther strengthening was predicted. Late that evening the barometric pressure was 29.88 inhg and the National Hurricane Center showed the track still coming straight for Houma. The entire day was a typical summer day and I think of all the past hurricanes that hit Louisiana before we had modern forecast; the people would have had no warning of the disasters that were coming.

The morning of August 29 was cloudy and raining with a steady 40 mph NE wind and the upper bands of clouds were moving fast over the lower bands. The weather was starting to look like hurricane weather; after going through many hurricanes there is a look, a feeling of the way the clouds move and the winds change that one knows that a hurricane is near. The rain would come in waves and the wind was gusting from the ENE about 40 miles an hour; a further check of the old barometer showed the pressure was dropping fast and the wind direction indicated it was coming straight for us; a cold chill ran up my spine: I knew we were going to have a rough one. At 11.55 am Ida made landfall near Port Fourchon with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. The radar images showed a very distinct eye and the barometric pressure at Volumnia Farm was 29.70 inHg. The wind was blowing from the East at 60 Mph , things were starting to get blown around, tree limbs, garbage cans, light objects and the windows and doors were starting to rattle from the gust of wind.

As the evening progressed the wind steadily increased to over 100 mph, each gust becoming stronger and each gust shook the old house more and more. By 5:00 pm things were really getting bad; trees could be heard cracking and falling, things hitting against the house, glass breaking, pieces of houses were flying . The rain was not falling straight but was coming in waves parallel to the ground. The wind was roaring like a freight train, some of the windows were breaking and glass could be heard shattering. Tin roofing sheets flew with some sticking straight into the sides of buildings. If a person was outside they would have been cut in half. There was no light except for the constant lighting strikes which would illuminate sky and make visible the destruction that was taking place. But the worse was yet to come.

Around 6:00 pm Volumnia Farm was in the western eye of the storm. The barometric pressure had dropped to 28.92 in Hg and the eye wall was spawning mini tornadoes. A tug boat in the canal on the farm clocked wind gusts of over 200 mph before their wind gauge broke. The entire roof of the 160 year old workman’s house was blown off and two windows were blown in at Volumnia House. Water was being blown through every crack in a door or window; the old house shook and trembled . I was born and raised in this old house and have passed many hurricanes in it but this one was far worse than any before and I wondered if the house would hold together. About 7:00 pm the winds began to subside and I was thankful that Volumnia House had survived .

A time of wind and destruction was ending
a time of misery and suffering was just beginning

The following morning I woke to complete devastation. I had trouble opening the door with all kinds of debris piled up against it. The entire roof from the workman’s house was against Volumnia House and there were tree limbs and parts of houses from a mile away in huge piles in the yard.

It took two hours with a bulldozer just to clear the debris on the driveway from the house to the road (Park Avenue) just a few hundred feet away. There was no electricity or water, some areas of the parish would not have electricity or water for weeks. The disaster is best depicted in the photographs.

After the storm those who had a house left to live in were the lucky ones. The parish looked like the towns in WWII that had been bombed. The parish president reported that 60% of the homes in the southern part of the parish were unlivable. Many of the poorer people that lived in mobile homes got hit the worst, some homes were so damaged that there was nothing but a pile of rubble to indicated that a home was once there. To make matters worse it was raining almost continuously and in the homes with damaged roofs everything was getting wet, ceilings were falling in, clothing, furniture, bedding. There was no electricity and water so food was spoiling and no way to keep anything clean. The wind had been so strong that it had blown water through every crack and crevice and under roofing shingles causing black mold to ruin everything. Even nice brick homes were not spared water damage and in front of homes were giant piles of furniture, bedding, insulation, drywall, and appliances. Whole houses had to be gutted because of the water and mold damage. It is estimated that the parish will have to remove and dispose of five million cubic yards of debris.

Many roads were impassable because of downed power lines and poles, and help with food and water could not get to people. I cleared the driveway to the main highway but still couldn’t get anywhere with downed power lines and poles and all sorts of debris in the roads.

A few days after the storm some of the roads became passable even though it was like driving through an obstacle course around all kinds of obstacles. I had do check on my cattle on the farm in Lafourche Parish and the camp in Dulac. The drive was the most disheartening thing I have ever seen in my life and the extent of the devastation became so apparent. It was hot and raining and people were living in tents out of plastic tarpaulins and trying to live in homes with some walls missing and roofs missing, no food or running water. Louisiana National Guard, local government departments, charitable organizations and the Red Cross were helping bringing in trucks of bottle water and food. I was so shaken and saddened by the human misery that I had witnessed that I hardly ate anything for days.

From the devastation the people rose

Like a phoenix rising form her ashes

To summons the courage within them

And build back all that was lost.

In all the devastation and misery there were signs of hope everywhere. People summoning the courage and strength to begin building back all that was lost. People were working non-stop, working until exhaustion, pushing themselves to keep going, on roofs, on cleaning up debris, getting infrastructure back in service. On Volumnia Farm we worked for two straight months from dawn to dusk without a day off repairing roofs and buildings and getting the farm equipment and fields productive again. Anybody that was good at roofing or carpentry was booked up for months. Building materials were not available.

The hurricane brought out the good and the bad in people. Some people were cooking meals and bringing them to the people, picking up household necessitates and distributing them, helping families repair their homes, doing whatever they can with their means they had to help others.

The most vulnerable, the elderly and the ones with the least money were falling victims to scams and price gouging. It is inconceivable to me that people would use a disaster to prey on people who have lost so much. Some of the scam artist took all the remaining money and hope from families devastated by this hurricane. Fortunately the good vastly outnumbered the bad.

The insurance companies are really going to take a hit, some have already gone bankrupt and we can all expect our insurance rates to increase dramatically. It’s going to take years for Terrebonne Parish and its people to completely recover from this hurricane. We should have everything close to normal in two years.

I love Volumnia Farm and Terrebonne Parish. We have the best of the world of the land and the world of the sea and the benefits of living here outweigh the risk. We all know that we will rebuild and get our lives back to normal and we will enjoy the good life…until the next hurricane.