• 79°

Veteran shares story of massive oak tree that fell on his house during Hurricane Ida

LAPLACE — Army veteran Ken Welch said the estimated 40,000-pound oak tree that fell into his garage during Hurricane Ida was as scary as some of his experiences in the Vietnam War.

“We got the right ‘eye wall’ right here,” Welch said. “When it started going over us, it was very terrifying. I didn’t see stuff much more terrifying in Vietnam. It’s an experience you don’t want to go through — I’ll tell you.”

Welch, 75, said about half a dozen companies were hesitant to remove the tree because of the danger it posed to do so. The branches of the tree that once shielded parts of his house and his neighbor’s reached 30 feet above the roof, which Welch cited as the primary challenge with removing it. His son has since helped move the tree so that it wouldn’t further collapse and cause more damage.

“It was quite a work of artistry to get that stump off the roof, or we would’ve lost the whole house,” Welch said. “Right now, the damage from the tree is in the garage and part of the foyer.”

Welch said about two feet of water flooded his garage, while up to one foot flooded the inside of his home. His dressers, end tables and doors are essentially ruined. His leather couches have soaked up the water like a sponge. He’ll have to remove most of the drywall, and he’s already pulled up the carpet in his home.

Welch said his dogs were his main concern during the storm. He has a dozen, including a labrador retriever, a bloodhound and others who regularly help him hunt game during the hunting season. He also continues to care for two cats that belonged to his wife, Sonya, who he lost last year after 47 years of marriage.

For Welch, his dogs were his reason for staying. His son evacuated to the family hunting camp in Greenwood, Mississippi, where they were in the process of building kennels for Welch’s dogs. But since they weren’t complete, he wasn’t leaving.

The doghouses, which he constructed, at his home sit on concrete slabs and survived the storm without damage. None of his dogs were injured either.

“If (water) was going to get in their doghouses, I was going to go grab them all and put them on top of the roof or put them in my canoe back there so they could float,” he said.

Welch said his home sustained damage from hurricanes Isaac, Katrina and Andrew, but none of those storms compared to Ida, primarily because of winds that exceeded 100 miles per hour and the relentless storm surge.

For past storms, Welch was able to make the necessary repairs himself. Just a few days ago, he sustained a heart attack and had part of his heart removed. He doubts he can do much to repair his home this time-around. Over the last few days, he’s relied on his neighbor for food and gas since Welch’s truck isn’t operable due to flooding.

“This was by far the worst one for us,” Welch said. “I think LaPlace has got a big target on it and everything aims right at us.”