Driving south Monday afternoon on La. 1 in Lafourche Parish just 24 hours after Category 4 Hurricane Ida barreled up from the Gulf of Mexico, motorists who talked their way past a half-dozen law enforcement checkpoints had to dodge mile upon mile of wooden utility poles that had been snapped or teetered precariously over the road and buildings, their wires dangling or stretched across the travel lanes.
Hurricane Ida's winds were clocked at 150 mph sustained when she made landfall in Port Fourchon on Sunday, where a vessel recorded a 172-mph gust. The eye passed over the south Lafourche port just west of Grand Isle.
One of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the state, Ida traveled inland roughly along a path that shadowed La. 1, a low-lying highway that skirts along Bayou Lafourche where one is as likely to see shrimp boats as oilfield service boats moored just yards from the highway.
The damage from Ida's winds was widespread, random and in many cases devastating. One home is missing a few shingles while the house next door lost its roof. Three trees snapped by Ida missed one house while a single tree split in three, one massive piece slicing a home in two. A pink wooden snowball stand remains unscathed. A few doors down, a metal building is crushed.
Awnings are detached at Central Lafourche High School in Mathews. Three metal walls of Victory Life Church in Lockport are blown out, revealing a drum set and speakers used in its worship services. Part of the roof of the Larose-Cut Off Middle School came off, the walls of the metal West Cut Off Fire Station are gone and Golden Meadow Middle School lost part of its roof.
Mother and son Angelle and Joey Waguespack of Mathews surveyed the damage Monday to a neighbor's lovely 100-year-old wooden home. Hurricane Ida damaged the south side of the house before the eyewall arrived. After the wall of the hurricane passed, the house took an even worse beating. The wind blew off its peak and a window on the south side and lay the entire northern wall on the ground intact, windows unbroken.
The home, whose owners evacuated ahead of Ida, is open on one side like a little girl's doll house, revealing two bedrooms, beds still made.
"I'm just glad they evacuated," neighbor Joey Waguespack said.
Angelle Waguespack speculated it was a tornado spawned by Hurricane Ida that caused the damage. She and Joey Waguespack rode the storm out in their home nearby and heard a train sound. They were battered for hours, she said.
The Waguespacks tried to salvage photographs from the home and were trying to reach the homeowners Monday afternoon.
Golden Meadow, a community about 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, is surrounded by levees and a floodgate that hold back the Gulf waters and storm surge from hurricanes like Ida. Marsh grass, dead fish and a wicker chair lay scattered just outside the floodgate Monday afternoon, debris deposited by Ida's surge.
The storm surge, estimated as high as 15 feet on the immediate coast, displaced large slabs of asphalt from La. 1. Officials said Monday the water caused the highway to buckle in some places and wash away in others, leaving La. 1 impassible south of Golden Meadow, preventing residents, business owners and camp owners from reaching Leeville, Port Fourchon and Grand Isle by car.
Researchers with NOAA were still gathering data on storm surge Tuesday morning and expect to have a more accurate assessment in 3-5 days.
The Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office and government announced residents may begin returning home at noon Tuesday by showing proof of residency such as a driver's license. Clean water is not available south of U.S. 90, power won't be restored for some time and cell phone service is not working well. Grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations are closed and there is a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.