Survivors sheltered in trees, coffins rose out of the ground and most of the homes on this spit of sand bordering the Gulf of Mexico were torn apart by winds and waves. But nobody died.
“One good day. No fatalities,” said Police Chief Euris Du Bois.
Hurricane Katrina swept through this island of weathered camps 45 miles south of New Orleans and left it a shambles. Boats sat on the highway, homes were lifted right off their stilts. The muddy beach was littered with a TV set, a rocking chair, a child’s plastic dinosaur.
Fortunately, nearly all the island’s 1,200 residents evacuated long before the storm blew ashore, heeding the warnings of state officials and the door-to-door knocks of the local police.
“We know everybody who lives on Grand Isle. We know who stayed. Some we convinced,” said Du Bois. Five or six he persuaded by speaking of how much their children or grandchildren would miss them.
Five others stayed in their camps, only to flee their homes when the storm blew their homes apart. Three took shelter in the town hall, and two “took to the trees,” he said. In the town’s cemetery, a half-dozen vaults and coffins emerged from the rain-soaked ground.
The damage, while bad, was a relief, given how hard the island has been hit by past storms, such as Hurricane Betsy 40 years ago.
Still, he and other officials looked with worry across Barataria Bay toward other bayou communities in Plaqiemines parish, where officials who flew over said much of the land was under water and news still hadn’t been heard on how people had fared. And they talked with fear of New Orleans itself, where rescue units were still plucking people from water-flooded homes.
'The Lord spared them'
Still, hundreds were homeless, power and water was out and the two-lane bridge that led to the island had shifted on its foundation, allowing only a careful, worrisome crossing that was sure to slow the help needed, said Mayor David Camardelle.
“I got people here who don’t got nothing,” he said.
He won promises of help from Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., who spent the day zooming from town to town, visiting emergency operations, sheriffs and mayors, gathering information on the most pressing problems.
Melancon, a freshman in a district that stretches from east and south of New Orleans all the way to the edge of Baton Rouge, ticked off the owners of homes and camps. “It’s weird how some of ’em are OK and some of ’em are devastated,” he said.
“Basically,” Melancon said, “the Lord spared them.”