I was scrolling through my Snapchat memories and I came across my pictures from one year ago. On Aug. 29, 2021, my hometown of Houma, Louisiana was hit by Category 4 Hurricane Ida.
As I was seeing my past unfold on my phone screen, I could vividly remember my emotions and surroundings: pure horror. To say it was a traumatic experience would be an understatement. What my eyes saw can only be described as an apocalyptic wasteland.
For a long time, I felt that I was overreacting to the aftermath. It felt like the world was continuing, and I remained stuck in a depressed mentality. I knew I was not the only one affected in this way.
One year later, I wanted to contact some of my community members and ask what their experience was like. In doing so, I was able to connect our shared experiences and learn more about how others felt about the hurricane.
Many Houma residents evacuated to other states like Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. While cell phone services were down, there was almost no way of communicating to people outside of the disaster zone. I asked my old classmate Kelise Scott what she felt like only being able to see the aftermath of the hurricane through social media and she said, “We saw some of the worst videos of things getting torn up.”
I can attest that I saw video after video on Facebook, showing roofs of stores and houses getting completely lifted off. It was as if mother nature herself was using my town as a playset. In my head, I imagined a large hand from the sky coming and using our houses, cars and boats as toys.
It is very rare to stay in the hurricane path of a Category 4 hurricane, so I was very shocked when I realized quite a few people stayed. I asked my former band mate, Evan Foret, about his experience of seeing the damage done to Houma hours after the storm passed.
“The Houma that we knew was not the same, it was very much like a war had happened,” he said. He explained to me how trees and houses around him were flattened completely. He was shocked at how much open space there was caused by the hurricane damage, even telling me it reminded him of a large football field.
Living in my hometown I saw the brutality of the hurricane’s aftermath. Houma did not have many deaths compared to other locations hit, but we definitely had an extensive amount of damage done to our town. In the few months directly following Hurricane Ida, Houma was left without electricity, water and gas.
This meant there was no food, stoves, showers, cellphones and other essential things needed for daily life. In this time we had many organizations and outside communities come in and aid us. I remember having many churches, including my parent’s own church, donating and helping the community with fresh produce and hot plates of food. The military handed out bags of ice, gallons of water and Meals Ready-to-Eat (MRE) to the Houma residents.
Every home in Houma was damaged in one way or another. On some lucky homes it was only a few shingles or a piece of siding, on others it flattened the entire house down to the base. My friend, Natalie Hebert, told me that her home where she resided with her grandparents was totaled. Her roof caved in, and she and her family had to ask for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance. She spoke about the assistance FEMA was providing to the people who were left homeless.
“It took FEMA a while for them to really do anything, because once the campers were on peoples’ lots it took two months for FEMA to let people inside the campers,” she said.
Many schools in the Terrebonne Parish School district were damaged or destroyed. My former high school, Ellender Memorial High School, was completely destroyed. Students and staff members are back to their original campus location but not in their original building, as reconstruction is set to begin in the coming years. A time estimate of when students are expected to occupy the damaged building was set to around 2025.
I spoke to my former band director Anthony Joseph (Mr. J), and I asked him how he felt seeing his students deal with that news. He said he saw some faces drop.
“I knew they were hoping to graduate out of that building,” he said.
Ellender Memorial High School is set in portable, trailer-like buildings, set up as a makeshift campus. Students have said that they are very grateful to have a place to call home, but that the campus situation is never going to be like their original school.
Students and staff have to walk by and see their destroyed main building everyday. I asked what it was like to pass by such a macabre scene.
“We still feel it, we feel what happened here,” Mr. J said. “It made me realize that a storm came in here in a few hours and really ripped this area to shreds.”
A sudden change in daily life like that is a lot for an adult to handle mentally, let alone a teenager. Angelle Giroir, a Houma resident, explained to me how the effects of the hurricane were not just physical. She told me her grades suffered tremendously because her mental health was at a very low point. I know personally how it was to continue schooling with the half day situations. For context, my high school had to share a building with Terrebonne High School. We went to school in the afternoon, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., so this was not the time situation we were accustomed to.
Hurricane Ida was physically, emotionally and mentally tolling on everyone. Houma residents did not let this hurricane destroy them further. I truly saw what unconditional support and love was from complete strangers in my town. Everyone I have spoken to has had a mutual reciprocated feeling of respect and admiration for the Houma residents and all those that provided aid. I am proud to say I am from Houma, Louisiana.
As to why I felt guilty for leaving, I felt that I was walking away from a town that needed me. I wanted to do so much more to help my friends and community, but the only fixing left to do is mental and emotional. The homes and buildings are being rebuilt. I needed this article experience to help me close a large chapter in my life. I don’t feel as if I am leaving them behind, but that I am moving forward and bringing them with me in my heart wherever I go.