Lesia Landry kept watching the water rise in her LaPlace subdivision. As the wind howled and blew the rain in sheets that looked like snow, her cell service and electricity down, water rising in the house, she decided to take refuge where she thought she could stay dry for a while: her kitchen island, where she remained for hours.
“The rain just wouldn’t stop. It rained 12 hours straight,” said Landry, 60, after she waded through her neighborhood off U.S. 51 near Lake Pontchartrain to reach higher ground with the help of her son-in-law and grandchildren. “It just started rising, rising, rising. I found a pillow and I had a big flashlight.”
It was part of the scene of devastation that residents woke to Monday morning after Hurricane Ida lashed the community with a trifecta of forceful winds, torrential rains and water blown from the lake into streets on the lake’s western end. The episode was a repeat of sorts of 2012’s Hurricane Isaac, which also swamped the subdivisions near Interstate 10.
Some of those same neighborhoods were also hit by a monster tornado in 2016.
On Monday, Parish President Jaclyn Hotard said that there were no known fatalities from "one of the most catastrophic" storms to hit St. John the Baptist Parish.
"We have been tested before and we overcame," she said. "Please continue to pray for our community and know that we have all hands and resources on deck."
One sheriff’s deputy said he’d been rescuing residents since 1 a.m. By sunrise, deputies and state wildlife and fisheries personnel launched boats to help those who couldn’t wade to safety on their own, using residential streets as shallow bayous. National Guard troops grabbed hold of weary residents from high-water trucks. Helicopters buzzed overhead.
By the end of the day, nearly 800 people had been rescued, parish officials said.
Hurricane Ida made landfall in coastal Louisiana Monday afternoon and moved through the Baton Rouge area through the night.
Along Airline Highway, power lines and electricity poles were strewn about like needles and thread. Stores and gas stations had their roofs ripped off. Gas pumps sat upturned in some spots like football tackling dummies.
Parish officials had been so cut off from the world that when Hotard received word that President Joe Biden wanted to speak with her, she was unable to get a working line out, she said. A curfew was in place from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., said Hotard, whose personal home flooded and who lost her car.
Sheriff Mike Tregre said parish personnel carried out rescues even as the storm was still passing because people were "screaming for help with children." He said deputies would be on patrol for looters and warned that residents may "regretfully" take matters into their own hands, especially with cell service still down.
"You're probably going to get shot," he said.
Among those rescued from the water was Darryl Hoormann, 75, who was in a wheelchair after a mild stroke and had been rehabilitating at home. For that reason he and his wife, Louise, a 65-year-old nurse, decided to ride out the storm. He said they “did all right with the wind, but then the water came in.”
“We had two-and-a-half feet of water in the house,” said the retired x-ray technician as he sat in a flatboat that brought him to higher ground, as if he had just returned from a harrowing fishing trip.
He could do nothing but sit in the water in his house and it eventually rose to his hips. His wife was so concerned she measured the height to his head to have an idea of how much the water would have to rise.
She didn't want to leave her husband, so she stood in the water instead of going up to the second floor of the house. Darryl had a lift chair, but there was nothing to power it after the generator failed. Before the phones went down, the couple had relayed word to the Sheriff’s Office to put them on the list of those who had remained.
During the worst of Ida, as residents of southeast Louisiana sat in dark rooms frantically scanning for news on their phones, disturbing reports filtered in from LaPlace’s suburban streets.
The posters tagged law enforcement, media and volunteer rescue groups. They included addresses.
"Y'all I am BEGGING if ANYONE can help rescue my sisters and grandmother please help!!" one person wrote.
"Family struck, stranded & house is flooding!" wrote one.
"PLEASE HELP MY MAMA YALL!!!" said another.
Hoormann and his wife made it out Monday along with their 12-year-old cat, Mikey, who sat calmly in a pet travel bag after his rescue. They were given a ride to a nearby church that St. John officials were using as a staging ground.
Those in the neighborhood said the water had finally begun receding after a calamitous night that saw them cut off from the rest of the world. They had also seen flooding in Isaac, and they lamented LaPlace’s lack of protection from the lake's waters. A long-envisioned $760 million project to build a back levee broke ground just last month.
Gene Vallet, 51, said he first took refuge on a chair when the water came up, but when it kept rising he moved to an older-model stereo system with a table-like top, grabbing pillows that happened to be dry because they were on the washing machine.
As soon as the winds shifted the water began to level off and subside, he said. In the morning he took a walk around with his 12-gauge shotgun because he wasn’t sure what he’d find.
Despite such fears, there were acts of kindness on LaPlace’s flooded streets.
As Hurricane Ida exits southeast Louisiana, some Baton Rouge area schools are keeping campuses and, in some cases, moving to virtual classes.
Jason Borne, who repairs damaged airport rental cars, powered up his flatboat to help his neighbor Brandon Brexton Sr. find his 10-year-old son. The boy had spent the night with relatives in the Cambridge Drive neighborhood, which generated several of the alarming social media posts.
One of the few blessings of Brexton’s night may have been that he couldn't access the internet. He said he watched the water rise in his neighborhood thinking about his son. His neighbors had to stop him from hopping into his truck to go and get him.
Brexton, 34, fretted aloud as Borne piloted their craft through the water. He’d had no word from his son.
Borne calmly inhaled from a vape pen. He was an expert at finding the deeper channels, and had ferried National Guard troops on rescue missions after Isaac.
Then, in front of an unassuming single-story house, Brexton shouted "stop the boat!" He hopped out, waded through a neighbor’s backyard, stepped over a toppled fence and arrived at the home of his aunt and uncle.
Suddenly he saw Brandon Jr. and felt a rush of relief. "I was going crazy," said Brandon Sr.
Some parishes and towns in the Baton Rouge area are extending curfews that were put in place due to Hurricane Ida.
The house was raised 4.5 feet after Isaac, but the water came up nearly that far overnight, said Brexton’s uncle, Perry Burrell. The ceiling also caved in.
Other residents who had left the neighborhood in advance of the storm returned Monday to check on their homes. Tenya Green Smith, 38, walked toward the neighborhood, repeating “my house” in an agonized voice.
“By the luck of God, we had just got out,” said Green Smith. “My house is the second house on the corner on the other street – looks like it doesn’t have a roof right now.”
Landry was grateful she found her way out. She emerged with a concerned but determined look on her face.
The water rose so high that her refrigerator and furniture had floated through her house. When she was still able, she would look outside to check on the weather conditions. She called it “white rain” because of the way the wind lashed it, making it look like a snowstorm.
While on the kitchen island, she shone her flashlight on the water level, trying to determine when it might level off. She didn’t want to fall asleep until it did. Eventually, it stopped rising, then began to recede.
“I couldn’t really sleep," said Landry. "But I could just lay down and process this and said, ‘This has got to be a dream.’”