Ida wipes out beauty of Louisiana’s Houma

HOUMA, La. — The main street of this southern Louisiana town resembles a chasm of rubble after Hurricane Ida.

Metal roofs stripped from buildings cover the sidewalks, and red bricks of a collapsed building mingle with large chunks of broken glass at one corner.

A man cleaning up the damage throws a piece of roofing material from the Mardi Gras Hall, a bingo parlor, and it lands with a thud. A block away, broken limbs from giant oak trees make it nearly impossible to walk across a once shady square.

“It’s like a bomb went off and just blew the roofs off houses, knocked down trees and smashed them like matches,” said Michael Cobb, watching the devastation Tuesday from his porch a few blocks away.

Cobb’s house, built 120 years ago of cypress and painted white with purple trim, survived the storm with only a water leak. Still, seeing Main Street filled him with sadness.

“It was such a beautiful place,” he said.

Located on the Intracoastal Waterway where the Bayou crosses Terrebonne, Houma is a working-class town of 33,000 people who largely earn their living off the nearby Gulf of Mexico. Many catch fish, shrimp and oysters. Others build and repair ships and barges or work support jobs for the oil industry.

Founded in 1832, Houma has endured its share of hurricanes. Hurricane Katrina caused flooding and left the bayou strewn with debris when it struck in 2005, 16 years to the day before Ida made landfall.

Ida’s eyewall ripped through Houma with winds of up to 150mph when the Category 4 storm hit the Louisiana coast on Sunday.

The hurricane tore away the corner of the flatiron-shaped Hancock Whitney Bank building. Across the street, which had been cleared to traffic on Tuesday, three walls and the roof of a small bistro collapsed in a heap.

Cobb’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Courteaux, has lived in the area all her life and grew up with Cajun French. She said the storm was terrifying and the aftermath worrying. The power could go out for a month, she said, and every tree near her house has fallen.

“You can’t even get past it,” said Courteaux, 66.

Throughout the city on Tuesday, power lines and utility poles hung precariously over streets littered with shingles and wood ripped from broken homes.

Tankers for drinking water were parked outside the town’s small hospital, Ochsner St. Anne, near Houma in Raceland. Clapboards were missing everywhere and wooden fences around houses lay flat on swampy ground.

Electricity crews have started repairing the electricity grid around Houma, but no one expects a quick fix. People in these parts are used to surviving hurricanes, Cobb said, and Ida will be no different.

“We will live,” he said. “We will persevere. We will rebuild. That is what we do.”

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