With winds roaring outside, Ben Bourgeois and his family decided to go into the hallway, which offered a little more protection than their living room.
Bourgeois’ home, located near the Tangipahoa Parish line in eastern Livingston Parish, is surrounded by pine trees, and his fear was that one would fall through the house as Hurricane Ida moved into the area.
So around 10 p.m., Bourgeois, his wife, and two children moved to the hallway, the wind gusts rapidly gaining strength outside their home. And just as they stepped out of the living room, they heard a crash — a limb burst through a window, followed by the top of a pine tree through the roof.
The pine tree rested in the living room, where they had been hunkered just moments earlier.
Bourgeois said they were saved “by the grace of God.”
“It was within seconds,” Bourgeois said. “It was only the good Lord that told us to get up and get gone.”
Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana as a Category 4 storm the afternoon of Aug. 29, making landfall around Port Fourchon with sustained winds of 150 mph at landfall, one of the strongest storms in history to hit Louisiana.
After landfall, Ida shifted easted and went directly through Livingston Parish later that night, with the eye passing near the Town of Livingston.
The storm knocked down thousands of trees, ripping up many by their roots, and toppled hundreds of power lines across streets and tangled in limbs. At its peak, more than 85 percent of the parish was without power.
Since then, first responders have worked around the clock in full recovery mode, rescuing residents, making welfare checks, clearing roadways, passing out supplies, and making damage assessments.
But many of them, like Bourgeois, are doing this after suffering damage to their own homes. Yet that hasn’t stopped them from doing their job, Bourgeois said.
“I still have a job to do,” said Bourgeois, a major in the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office. “We’re used to this. We’re used to seeing people in their worst situations, so you just try to go to them and help them.”
Lt. Paul Brignac was another LPSO worker who has put his home situation on hold as he helps the parish recover from Ida.
Brignac said he was at the LPSO training center the night of the storm while the rest of his family stayed with a neighbor. When Ida cleared out of the area the next day, he joined others in cleaning debris off streets.
“It was the same thing — cut, cut, cut, cut,” he said.
But as he worked, spotty cell service kept Brignac in the dark as to what happened to his family and his home near Springfield. Brignac didn’t talk to his family until Monday night, when he was “finally” able to get a call through.
During the conversation, Brignac was told that his home “had a little damage,” a purposeful move to avoid adding extra stress as he worked tirelessly to assist others after the storm.
He finally saw the “little damage” two days after the storm, when high floodwaters forced him to take a high-water vehicle to reach his home.
“When I finally got down there, I realized ‘a little damage’ was an understatement, to say the least,” Brignac said.
During an interview with The News, Brignac pulled out his phone to show a picture of the damage: Large tree branches were sprawled all over his living room, which was covered in insulation, sheet rock, broken wooden studs, and ruined furniture. Sunlight poured into the home through a giant open space where a wall once stood.
“Fortunately no one was in it,” Brignac said. “It’s a loss of the residence, but no one was hurt, and that was the main thing.”
Brignac, like other first responders, has spent “very little time” at his own place as he assists others in need. He said he was “very, very blessed” to have friends who helped in his home’s cleanup while he’s been away, “without me asking.”
Lt. Gene Higginbotham, who also had damage to his home during the storm, recalled both Brignac and Bourgeois walking into the Sheriff’s Office “the next day” ready to work.
“We all expected both of them to take some time, which was okay with everybody because they needed it,” Higginbotham said. “But they took it on their own, without anybody asking them to, to be here the next day.”
During a recent press conference, Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard recalled his own hurricane story in which he was trapped in his neighborhood by trees and water on one side and more trees on the other.
Ard said he and others had to cut “a lot of trees just to [make] our way out.” One neighbor brought a tractor, Ard brought a couple of chainsaws, “and we worked our way out, just like a lot of other people had to do.”
“It was… a team effort,” said Ard, noting his only objective was getting to his office as soon as possible to initiate his department’s response. “You had firefighters, first responders, and the community. A lot of people that were helping.”
Earlier this week, Ard thanked his deputies for their service in a video message and asked the public to “please continue to pray for our deputies.”
“Many of these guys have not had but a little bit of sleep,” Ard said. “They are serving you proudly although they have issues going on at home. They are dedicated and I cannot tell you how proud I am of the men and women of Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office.”
Like any disaster, Brignac and Bourgeois said the objective after Hurricane Ida was to make sure everybody was safe and try to get things back to normal as soon as possible.
Bourgeois, whose home flooded in 2016, said Ida was “the worst I’ve seen in 20-something years here.” But as always, he said the Sheriff’s Office was prepared.
“It’s unfortunate that we have these so often, but it has also prepared us mentally,” he said. “Whenever it does happen, you put a bandaid on your stuff and go help who you can.”
Brignac said it’s all “part of the job.”
“I really don’t consider anything else,” Brignac said. “At the end of the day, we signed up to do this, and this is the gig.”