Longtime community members say Hurricane Ida’s wrath was worse than Betsy

Published 2:09 pm Tuesday, September 14, 2021

GARYVILLE — Lifelong members of the St. John the Baptist Parish community have for decades used 1965’s Betsy as the standard for the type of destruction a hurricane can bring. Fifty-six years later, Hurricane Ida has revealed a new level of devastation.

Wade Trosclair of Garyville was 14 years old when Hurricane Betsy hit on Sept. 9, 1965. His family tuned into WDSU to watch Nash Roberts map the storm, but knowing a hurricane was coming didn’t prepare them for what would be left in its wake.

Trosclair felt his house shake the night Betsy struck. It wasn’t until morning that his family saw the extent of the damage in Garyville. St. Hubert’s Church was among the structures destroyed by the storm, but Trosclair vividly remembers walking up to the wreckage and seeing a statue of St. Hubert’s standing on a pedestal, untouched.

“I can remember the fear of that storm. With Ida, I got that fear again, but it was different,” Trosclair said. “At 14 years old, I wasn’t responsible for anything. All I had to do was listen to my mom and dad. They were in charge. This time, I’m in charge.”

When Hurricane Ida hit the night of August 29, Trosclair heard four large oak trees crash around his house as limbs pelted the roof. He saw fear flash over his wife’s eyes, and he wondered if they made the right choice to ride out the storm.

“I think this storm was more powerful than Betsy,” Trosclair said. “With Ida, the eye passed directly over us. When they talk about the calm of the eye, we witnessed it. Next thing you know, winds were coming from the opposite direction.”

The aftermath of Betsy was a lot different from Ida. Back then, Trosclair didn’t have the modern conveniences of generators or MREs. However, what hasn’t changed is the goodwill he’s seen from the community after a disaster.

“I truly see the good in people after something like this happens. People are reaching out to each other to help each other out like we should be doing year-round. It shows where people’s hearts really are,” he said.

Loretta Webre of LaPlace was grateful for the linemen giving their time and energy to the community as she waited for her power to be restored early this week.

Hurricane Katrina was the only storm she has evacuated from in her lifetime, and that was primarily because her father was sick and needed access to medical care. She remembers riding out Hurricane Betsy in Reserve when she was only 13 years old.

Her father asked tenants who lived in an apartment above the garage to come downstairs and stay in the house during the storm. Webre recalls watching her father and one of the tenants use all of their strength to nail a set of double doors shut against the fierce winds.

There was devastation across the parish and many buildings were left in shambles, including the nearby St. Peter Catholic Church. Power was out for around two weeks. A kerosene lantern lit up the house at night. During the day, Webre helped clean her father’s clothes on a washboard.

Her family was lucky that their home only sustained minor damage during Betsy. She was lucky once again with Ida, having avoided home damage while others lost everything. All five of her children’s houses were impacted in some capacity, whether from floodwaters, wind damage or collapsed ceilings.

“I picked up lunch from Ascension of Our Lord, and seeing the community behind the church brings tears to your eyes. It’s gut-wrenching to see the amount of personal belongings that were lost,” Webre said. “Betsy was a bad storm, but this one was so much worse. Being an adult, you look at things from a different perspective than you do as a teenager. It was a very frightening storm to ride out in the house. It made me realize I don’t want to stay here for another one. The winds were just relentless for hours and hours. Every time I went into my bedroom, I thought it was going to blow away.”

Joan LeBouef of Garyville has recollections of Hurricane Betsy through the eyes of a child. Her family was building a house in Reserve when she was in the third grade. Worried that their rental home wouldn’t withstand the winds of the storm, they sought shelter at her grandparents’ house on Marmillion Loop.

LeBouef was sleeping on the floor with her six siblings when she was woken up and told to move away from the big window. Her grandmother looked out the window above her gas stove and watched as a neighbor’s roof was torn off the house.

Once her family was back at the rental house, LeBouef felt like she was on an adventure. School was out, and the backyard was littered with trees that were perfect for playing Tarzan and Jane.

Her mindset on hurricanes changed as she got older. As a local postmaster, she could never flee far from the path of a storm. Now retired, she was able to stay in Gonzales for Hurricane Ida.

“I didn’t stay for this one, but the people who I talked to in Garyville until we lost connection were saying the wind was just terrible, the strongest winds they’ve ever gone through,” LeBouef said. “Everyone was saying they will never stay again.”