Hurricane Ida

A bicyclist rides by a fallen tree in Denham Springs after Hurricane Ida, which struck the state on Aug. 29, 2021.

Residents of Livingston Parish woke up Monday morning to downed trees, debris-covered streets, flooding, and widespread power outages following the wrath of Hurricane Ida, which many locals are calling one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the area.

Hurricane Ida made landfall in Port Fourchon around noon Sunday, bringing with it sustained maximum winds of 150 mph and higher gusts.

Ida moved north through the state after making landfall and went directly through the parish, according to the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LOHSEP).

Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks signed an emergency declaration ahead of the storm and has since banned traffic on waterways until further notice. Livingston Parish deputies have reported flooding in the eastern side of the parish, mostly in Springfield, Albany, and Holden.

Based on forecast maps, the eye of the storm likely passed somewhere between Denham Springs and the Town of Livingston. But its effects were felt across the entire parish, which might not see power restored for several days and possibly weeks. Cell service is also down, making it difficult for people to connect with officials or loved ones.

“It’s the whole parish,” said Brandi Janes, director of LOHSEP. “I have people down south asking for tarps because trees fell on their homes. I have people in Watson and here in Livingston that have damage to their homes.

“It’s in every corner.”

Based on the National Hurricane Center, Ida was downgraded from a hurricane in its 4 a.m. advisory Monday, when it was 50 miles northeast of Baton Rouge. But by that time, it had already gone through Livingston Parish with the equivalent of tropical-storm-force winds and some hurricane-force wind gusts.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 55,000 Livingston Parish businesses and homes were without power as workers continued to clear debris from power lines.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Town of Livingston Mayor JT Taylor. “I’ve talked to some of our guys who have worked here 40 years and have been here their entire life, and they all said this is the worst storm they have ever seen, of any storm that’s ever passed through here.”

The Village of French Settlement, located at the southern end of the parish, was one of the first areas to feel the effects of Ida, which slowed in its track as it moved inland, prolonging its devastating winds.

French Settlement Mayor Taylor Unbehagen and Assistance Police Chief Lawrence Callender said the small village began feeling the effects of Ida around 7 p.m. Sunday., when strong winds began tossing down trees and power lines alike.

“At 7, you couldn’t keep a vehicle on the road,” Callender said. “It was blowing your vehicle around. Trees were falling and power lines were falling.”

Unbehagen and Callender on Monday said the entire village was without power — “We had massive damage to our power grid” — as well as water on one well, where a tree fell over a generator. At the time, they said gas service in French Settlement was working and that one grocery store was open, using a generator.

But there wasn’t much more good news for the village, which on Monday was only accessible through one roadway as teams worked to remove debris from the streets.

“It’s just devastation,” Callender said. “It really went right through us.”

Janes said the parish’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) lost power around 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Shortly after, the automatic generator fried and wasn’t able to be replaced until Monday morning.

Janes said search-and-rescue teams were deployed “at first light” Monday across the parish to begin clearing roadways covered with tree limbs and branches. Those teams consisted of sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, and National Guard soldiers.

But communication has been sparse, with phone lines down and people without internet access.

“Communication is tough right now, so we’re not getting reports in as fast as normal,” Janes said. “We’re waiting for crews to come back and then report what they’ve done and what they’ve seen.”

As of Tuesday, the EOC’s phone lines were still down, Janes said. She is urging people with emergencies to call 911.

After returning from assessing damage, Taylor on Monday said he and his town leaders felt certain the eye passed through their area, saying the storm “got real bad around 9:30 p.m.”

In a midnight update from the National Hurricane Center, Ida was reported as being two miles east of Livingston and four miles west of Holden.

“The northern wall that hit us, it shook the building,” Taylor said. “It was rough. You could feel it in everybody’s houses.”

Taylor said there were “hundreds” of downed trees that resulted in damage to homes and other buildings, including to the baseball and softball fields near Doyle Elementary.

Taylor said the local police and fire departments worked all night and then got busy clearing roadways around 5:30 a.m. Monday. Some had to come later after clearing debris from in front of their own homes.

Volunteers also helped make roadways passable.

“Most of its people with tractors and chainsaws coming out and helping,” he said “We wouldn’t have been able to do it by ourselves. We had our [town workers], but we had a lot of volunteers. They got out and got it done. That’s what happens around here. People do what they have to do.”

Taylor said there is much evidence that shingles blew off roofs and that some people’s roofs were actually lifted by the strong winds. But considering the amount of trees that were knocked over, he said the sitatuon could’ve been “way worse.”

“We’re blessed by the amount of trees that missed houses,” Taylor said. “We have a lot of houses that were hit with trees, but we could’ve had a lot more. We can deal with losing stuff, not lives.

“Now it’s getting that power back.”

Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry said the city was on the west side of the eye wall and that his team could hear “the wind howling through the front doors” of City Hall, where EOC was working.

Landry said clearing roadways was the main goal Monday and that work will soon start soon to replace street signs and other objects that fall under the city’s responsibilities. He’s hopeful that debris cleanup will start soon, as well.

Parts of Denham Springs are under a boil water advisory.

“I’m old enough to live through [Hurricane] Betsy, but I don’t remember it being this bad,” Landry said.

The Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office has been fully activated since the day of the storm, with deputies staged across the entire parish. Though communication is limited, the department has been sharing photos and updates of the storm on its Facebook page.

Lori Steele, a spokesperson for the office, said in a radio interview Monday that there haven’t been any reported injuries or fatalities in the parish from the storm.

But no part of the parish was spared damage from Ida, she said.

“When I ask people if it’s one area hit harder than another, they all said, ‘It’s just everywhere,’” Steele said.

Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard has urged people to stay off roadways if possible as first responders work to clear debris. Curfews have been in effect for the last two nights in the parish, and there’s a chance it continues, especially since the lack of power makes roadways more difficult to navigate after dark.

“I cannot stress enough how dangerous these roads are,” Ard said in a video message Monday evening. “We have high water, we have power lines still down, and a lot of debris in the road. We have got a lot of stuff done, but there are still power lines everywhere.”

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