Ida devastation in LaPlace stuns Iberville deputies

Staff Report

Note: This is the first of two stories on outreach in areas devastated by Hurricane Ida.

Hurricane Ida swept through south Louisiana just over two weeks ago, but the damage left in the Category 4 storm’s path does not ease the shock for sheriff’s deputies from Iberville Parish.

Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office Agent Mark Cooper (right) briefs deputies at the start of another day of assistance for the St. John the Baptist Sheriff’s Office in LaPlace in the wake of Hurricane Ida.

For those who have worked at sites in LaPlace and Houma, the damage remains hard to fathom.

“It’s horrible here. How does somebody come back from this?,” said Mark Cooper, an agent with the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Winds from Hurricane Ida ripped off cinderblocks from a former department store building near the St. John the Baptist Sheriff’s Office Correctional Facility in LaPlace.

He stood with a dozen or so members of the IPSO on a sunny, mild Friday morning – a far cry from the conditions that wrought severe damage throughout St. John the Baptist and other parishes in southeast Louisiana.

Fallen powerlines remain on roadsides, many homes are destroyed, and most traffic signals remain out of service.

“You figure it might six months or so to get your home straight, but the infrastructure here will take at least a year to get back,” Cooper said.

In fact, those issues pose the biggest challenge.

“The biggest challenge is trying to get through the lights at an intersection, so traffic is bad, and everyone is out getting gas,” he said. “Most were out until two days ago.”

A home near the levee area in LaPlace was among countless residential structures decimated during Hurricane Ida.

They stood outside as they got ready for a day of helping the St. John the Baptist Sheriff’s Office on patrols through the area.

The destruction was plentiful and very close, even at their meeting site. They operated from a mobile unit near the parish’s corrections facility, which was located behind an old K-Mart department store, where the storm ripped off part of the top layer of cinderblocks from the building.

“That had to be a tornado,” Cooper said. “I don’t think a Category 3 storm (the rate after landfall) could do that kind of damage.”

“We were lucky in Iberville, but we’re just trying to do what we can to help,” Deputy Blake Gulotta said. “In the majority of the neighborhoods here when I first got here, the houses were flooded, homes were gutted and furniture was out by the road.”

A powerline remains down in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant along U.S. 51 in LaPlace, which sustained massive damage from Hurricane Ida and possible tornadoes that spawned from the storm.

Patrol assistance in areas battered by hurricanes has become almost too familiar for deputies from Iberville and other parishes across the state.

Last year, deputies spent time in Calcasieu Parish, which suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Laura.

‘I think they got it worse over here,” Cooper said.

The toughest part for the deputies, perhaps, involves watching residents try to regain that sense of normalcy when it may take much longer to attain.

“Unfortunately, we can’t give them any real answer when that will happen,” he said. “It’s hard to tell someone who’s been without lights and power and running a home with a generator for maybe six or eight hours a day.

“They get frustrated with the minor things, and it’s hard to tell them to calm down a little bit,” Cooper said. “They’re dealing with stuff we don’t have to deal with.

“Just by being here, you can tell that Baton Rouge, Ascension and Iberville could’ve gotten a lot worse,” he said. “We were lucky.”

Next week: How deputies and volunteers are helping Terrebonne and surrounding parishes in the wake of Hurricane Ida.