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Wind and water damage caused by the path of Hurricane Ida Tuesday August 31, 2021, in Grand Isle, La.

We don’t have to imagine what a once beautiful, lively small community looks like when it becomes uninhabitable. Unfortunately, we can look to Grand Isle in Jefferson Parish.

Louisiana has been dealing with barrier island issues for decades. The mighty Mississippi River has had its way with our coastline as the river decided to change its path, submerging some barrier islands, enhancing other barrier islands.

In recent years, Grand Isle was the one barrier island inhabited enough to be a vibrant community. Several hundred permanent residents called it home before Hurricane Ida, but parish officials gave them two, 12-hour shifts to carefully visit the island to see the incredible damage for themselves, to take photographs for insurance purposes and to gather a few personal items that might be salvageable.

Who knows when they will be allowed back. Who knows what life will look like as the Louisiana coastline recovers.

As the only barrier island with residents in recent years, the town has been a comfortable place for some looking for a peaceful, laid-back life with a fundamental philosophy that nature provides the key to good living.

Only LA 1 connects the island to the mainland with a bridge at Caminada Pass. Few traveled the bridge during non-peak times. But the traffic picked up for long holiday weekends, short breaks from the rush of urban life and during seasonal breaks. People flocked to Grand Isle to enjoy beaches, dunes and marshes — birding, boating and fishing.

Many of the things that attracted so many to Grand Isle are gone.

Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said 100% of the properties there are damaged to some extent. Many have lost roofs, rooms, walls. There is nothing left standing in some instances. What’s left of roads are hardly passable, with the possible exception of 4x4 vehicles. There’s no power. There’s no gas. There are no businesses open.

It’s worse than a ghost town because the island was such a tranquil place preparing for visitors on the Labor Day weekend when Ida struck just to the west. Though it’s been listed as a Category 4 hurricane, there were reports of 172 mph gusts on the island. A Category 5 hurricane has winds of 156 mph and higher.

Grand Isle Police Chief Scooter Resweber made it clear that this was no ordinary heavy-impact hurricane. “I’ve ridden out other hurricanes — Hurricane Isaac, Katrina, Gustav, Ike — and this is no comparison whatsoever,” he told the Associated Press. “This is the worst. … It’s just amazing that no one (here) was killed or even seriously injured.”

Strong odors of natural gas permeating what’s left of the island for several days are another sign that Grand Isle isn’t what it used to be.

Grand Isle has been our last inhabited barrier island for some time now. Based on assessments by state, parish and local officials, it would be a monumental task to rebuild Grand Isle.

The science is clear. Our coastline continues to disappear. Much of it has disappeared. More of it is likely to be gone by 2067, according to environmental experts. Grand Isle’s residents will love it back to life, as they have before, but our climate is changing and each new storm will bring greater challenges.

This is an aerial look of the path Hurricane Ida took from Grand Isle to Northern Livingston parish.

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