Hemelt: Hurricane Isaac leaves story for us to tell

Published 11:45 pm Friday, August 29, 2014

Encyclopedias are for things that should never be forgotten.

Once stored in many volumes, today they are easily assessable through the Internet.

The encyclopedia breakdown of Hurricane Isaac talks about the storm’s gradual intensification after passing the Florida Keys Aug. 26, 2012, reaching a peak wind intensity of 80 mph prior to making landfall at Louisiana’s coastline.

By late evening Aug. 28/early morning Aug. 29, the storm struck our state, and eventually the River Parishes, producing widespread tornado outbreaks across the the country before dissipating Sept. 1.

Those previous 65 words might be all that is remembered from the rest of the country, but they fall well short of telling the story of this region.

By Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, 19,000 residents in St. John the Baptist Parish were still without power, and water was cut off to all of LaPlace.

Endless rain made things unbearable, and extended periods of high wind raised water in Lake Pontchartrain and flooded neighborhoods north of Airline Highway.

The National Guard set up transport stations at New Wine Christian Fellowship and in the parking lot of Home Depot in LaPlace to get impacted residents to shelters in Alexandria, Baton Rouge and beyond.

This was survival, something that would change lives forever.

At the time, Alan Marse, a resident of Central Avenue in Reserve, spoke for many River Region residents who found themselves battling water.

“It was a total surprise,” Marse said two years ago. “I’ve been living (in this house) since ’93, and normally we never lose power.”

Dixie Ramirez, a resident of Oak Tree Street in LaPlace, told L’OBSERVATEUR two years ago: “I’ve been in my house 32 years and have never had water on my street, much less in my house.”

Those memories are never forgotten.

When St. John Sheriff Mike Tregre reflected on the storm this week and its lasting impact, he spoke of what will never go away.

“Hurricane Isaac left me with a permanent, invisible scar,” he said. “Every year as Aug. 29 approaches, the vivid images return like a bad dream. Now I find myself watching the weather more than ever before.”

He is not alone. It’s what many tied to this region feel.

Community Bank branch manager Melanie R. Basile said she remembers the fear and also worries if her children will trust her when she next says “everything will be OK,” because that statement was followed by intense flooding and damage two years ago.

Hurricane Isaac will never be a footnote in this region.

Aug. 29, 2012, is now a guidepost, marking the way things were before and how things are after.

The story of Hurricane Isaac could ultimately be written about how this region and its residents never gave up, bouncing back through strength and perseverance.

New Wine Christian Fellowship Pastor Neil Bernard said he is thankful that the people of St. John Parish were willing to put aside their differences “to help our community rebuild from one of the worst disasters we ever faced.”

LaPlace attorney Jeff Perilloux, whose home flooded in the storm, brings up the word “blessed” when thinking about the storm, reminding himself the water could have been higher, many lives could have been lost and no one could have helped.

Two years ago today, this region was under water. Today, to what heights we rebuild, is up to us and nowhere near finished.

The story is still being written.

Stephen Hemelt is general manager and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.