Louisiana Reflects One Year After Hurricane Ida

With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ida making landfall on Louisiana’s shores having recently passed, The Houma Times released a retrospective article that took a look back on how recovery efforts in the Bayou Region have taken shape in the past twelve months, as the area begins to prepare for yet another hurricane season.

The article focuses on how “Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou” saw the Category-4 storm’s destructive storm surges and winds brought with them the closing of local restaurants, attractions, events, and so much more, but despite all this, the storm didn’t deter the Cajun sense of perseverance against adversity. On the morning of August 30, many will recall that “neighbors helped neighbors, communities helped communities, and friends from around the country rushed to Louisiana’s aid, showcasing a shared camaraderie in the wake of the storm.

Similarly, Nola.com released a one-year reflection piece that detailed a collection of recent post-Hurricane Ida coverage that has been written by NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune about what’s happening in the state in terms of housing, insurance, power, and more.” Some of this coverage, in particular this piece that focuses on the communities of St. John Parish, details how LaPlace, Louisiana’s residents are still rebounding from the August 29th storm, despite still being in harm’s way for the upcoming hurricane season.

The informative article reported that according to the Louisiana Office of Community Development, “nearly 5,000 owner-occupied homes and some 3,700 renters were affected by [Hurricane] Ida” in St. John Parish with data suggesting “that, on a per-capita basis, St. John was Louisiana’s hardest-hit parish.” This data also purported that over 75% of homes in the parish had sustained wind damage claims, which is the highest rate of any Louisiana Parish. This was in addition to St. John Parish also seeing 60% of its homeowners with flood-insurance policies also file claims.

It’s well-knoen that St John Parish was particularly hit hard by Hurricane Ida, but one year after the fact has seen a recovery that has unfortunately been challenged by the state’s homeowners insurance crisis, which was triggered by the four hurricanes that have made landfall in Louisiana since late 2020. Since then, “eight companies have collapsed under financial strain and a growing number of them are pulling out of Louisiana, [and these] failed insurers have left behind more than 26,000 unresolved claims for the state’s industry bailout program to handle.”

St. John Parish Councilman Robert Arcuri commented on the recovery efforts in the area saying, “the devastation after the storm was incredible because not only did people flood, but we also had a lot of structural damage on properties. We still have a lot of residents that are fighting with their insurance company and some of them are just starting to rebuild. That’s a problem, but it’s not a big problem; I see a lot of progress that’s happening in our parish.”

Elsewhere in the state, local leaders at the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness or GOHSEP, have reported that they are hard at work to prepare for what’s to come in 2022’s hurricane season and beyond. Specifically, GOHSEP has since revamped how they communicate with federal and state agencies “to clarify the responsibility and investments in sheltering, rescue, and response.”

Despite the multiple levels of preparedness going into effect across the state at various levels, one of the most effective methods of preparing for the next storm is to get an emergency kit ready on your own accord. Luckily, Louisiana’s Get a Game Plan organization has a collection of resources to not only stock your own emergency kit, but they have a guide to preparing yourself and your family for conceivably every possible scenario.

In his statement concerning the anniversaries of Hurricanes Ida, Katrina, and Laura, Governor John Bel Edwardsissued the following words to the citizens of Louisiana, “the road to recovery is never easy, and we still have much work ahead of us. But I am optimistic knowing that Louisiana is in a much stronger place than we were even a year ago. Homes, businesses and schools are being rebuilt. More of our citizens are employed than ever before. Our levee system has never been stronger. There is no challenge we can’t overcome by working together, and I am inspired by the people of this great state who continue to persevere.”

These words ring true, not only because they highlight how the state of Louisiana has bounced back in some ways after each storm, but because it sets the tone for yet another hurricane season as one that ushers in an air of preparedness, foresight, and community.

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Washing Away, Nicholls State University’s Hurricane Ida Documentary is Coming Soon

On the one year after Nicholls State University and the bayou region of Southeast Louisiana saw detrimental damages from Hurricane Ida, the school released a film trailer for their documentary film that will cover the storm, damages, and Nicholls’ response to it, according to this news report.  The documentary is titled Washing Away, and while it’s set to release sometime in Fall 2022, there is a limited amount of information on the project outside of the eye-opening footage and scope on display in the trailer, which can be viewed here. Posted alongside the trailer on Nicholls State University’s social media feeds, the school said, “on the one-year anniversary of this devastating storm, we remember the events and take a look forward at how Nicholls State University is working to mitigate coastal land loss. This trailer gives a glimpse at the full documentary to be released in Fall 2022.”

The two-minute and thirty-second trailer was able to give a glimpse at the soon-to-come documentary that will be released later this year. The documentary was made possible by a grant from the Bayou Community Foundation, the charitable foundation that’s been “solely focused on building and sustaining the communities of Lafourche Parish, Terrebonne Parish, and Grand Isle” for the past ten years.

The documentary trailer, which has generated a lot of comments from Nicholls alumni on the ground-shaking impact of Hurricane Ida, the fifth-largest storm to ever hit the United States, made on the region, called for submissions of footage of all types to be included in the film on the Coastal Center’s documentary web page. The post asked for those who “have extraordinary videos, drone footage or photographs of the damage Hurricane Ida brought, [to] please consider submitting them to be included in the project.”

After Ida, the second-most damaging hurricane to hit Louisiana hit the region hard, approximately two-thirds of the Nicholls State University community had reported that their homes were damaged, and one-fifth reported that their homes were destroyed or made to be uninhabitable. Furthermore, according to Nicholls, “more than half of our students reported their families lost access to reliable income.”

Nicholls, which has a student body that’s 90% consisting of Louisiana students, has over half of its total student body residing in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, making most of the University’s students’ family homes affected by the storm in one way or another. With an over-arching impact of such magnitude, Nicholls and the surrounding community saw it upon themselves to take action to assist those who were heavily impacted.

One of the major avenues to recovery was the assistance from the Nicholls Campus Emergency and Hurricane Relief Fund, which was able to “invite students who lost their homes to the storm to move into campus residence halls and access meal plans at no cost. About 180 moved on campus.” This was of vital importance because it was learned through several surveys sent out by the university that over 1,400 students reported that their major struggles during the aftermath of Hurricane Ida were food insecurity, seeking shelter, gasoline, and money. Many students were even forced to drop out of school in order to rebuild their homes and care for family members.

Outside of showcasing the conditions of Hurricane Ida’s impact and recovery efforts, the Wasting Away documentarywill aim to show what’s in store for just how Nicholls will be working through their Coastal Center to mitigate land loss. This will be especially important as the Terrebonne Basin currently has the highest rate of coastal land loss in the state of Louisiana with a total of over 30,000 acres of wetlands being lost since 1932.

Nicholls’ Coastal Center’s groundbreaking is currently slated for early 2023, and the $21 million project will be used as a collaborative space for “scientists from all over the state and beyond, including those from CPRA, the Water Institute of the Gulf, and Nicholls Biological Sciences and Geomatics departments, to collaborate and advance research to repair and rebuild the state’s receding coastline” as well as preserve and protect the Louisiana coast from future storms.

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Businesses, Bridge Side Marina, and more Return to Grand Isle after Ida

Left in the wake of Hurricane Ida’s path, the state of the city of Grand Isle was awfully grim, but as it is outlined in this feature article from Nola.com, nine months after the storm passed, things are starting to look up as anglers and fishermen return to the nine-mile island.

The feature article spoke directly to citizens of Grand Isle to take a reading on how the community was fairing this long after Ida, thus making the account of the island’s comeback reliable and promising to say the least. One local fisherman, Frank Dreher commented on the striking restoration efforts that have taken place in the area in the last few months.

Dreher said “the one thing everyone has to know is the island and the waters certainly do not look like what they did before the storm. Most of the debris has been removed and the demolition of some camps continues. It’s been a long road, and we got a lot of support from our friends, the fishermen we’ve seen for years. It’s exciting to be back and exciting to see our friends come back.”

After Grand Isle was hit particularly hard by the devastating winds, storm surges, and other effects of Hurricane Ida, the outlook wasn’t positive. The community was left without electricity, water, fuel, food, and all other comforts, making many business owners and camp owners begin their processes of rebuilding and reopening the island with heavy hearts. As outlined in the feature, it would be months before these workers would be aided with electricity being restored or support services coming back to the island, but the strong workers put in their best efforts to repair the island.

In October of 2021, charter fishermen like Frank Dreher worked with professional crews to clean up the island using their materials, boats, and wherewithal. These members of the Grand Isle community used their own free time to round up, procure, and supply the necessary materials to build back the island, and thankfully it paid off. When crews began the process of rebuilding the island’s stores, streets, and shores in October, they were joined by the reopening of Grand Isle’s big grocery store Sureway, which was operating on power from a generator. In the coming months, power and water followed, and hope was gradually restored.

One of the largest projects facing the islanders wanting to assist in the restoration efforts was the resurrection of the iconic Grand Isle staple: The Bridge Side Marina. Because it’s the first marina that visitors to Grand Isle see whenever they’re crossing the Caminada Bay bridge, it’s often synonymous with the city itself, thus making it the perfect restoration site for islanders Buggy and Dodie Vegas, who were interviewed by reporters from Nola.com.

Today, Bridge Side Marina is open once again, and it’s supplied with fuel, ice, live shrimp, tackles, minnows, and food. All of this means that enough is in stock to bring life back to the once-vibrant Marina, and there’s enough bait to ensure that enough life will be caught as well.

Community member Dodie Vegas was confident in Grand Isle’s comeback; he reported that the Bridge Side store’s deli is set to reopen in late May. Additionally, he told reporters, “It’s still a work in progress. We’re shooting to have bait boats providing live croakers for Memorial Day weekend. We had to rebuild docks, and we have a barge in the marina building a new dock,” he said. “And, we’ve rebuilt about half our rooms. The RV park is hooked up 100%, and we’re working around the fishermen in the morning and working on the place the rest of the day.”

Though, this Grand Isle comeback isn’t only because of the Marina’s return, because the Blue Dolphin inn and at least a half of a dozen RV parks are currently reopened and operating in the area alongside restaurants.

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Benny Cenac Supports The Bayou Community Foundation and the Completion of the First Two Homes in Dulac for Hurricane Ida Victims

The Bayou Community Foundation (BCF) and community volunteers recently celebrated the completion of the first two homes built in Dulac, Louisiana through the Foundation’s Hurricane Ida recovery programs, according to The Houma Times.

The dedication ceremony allowed for residents, state and parish leaders, and nonprofit partners to come together and celebrate the building of the first two homes to come out of the BCF’s many partnerships and recovery programs centered around Hurricane Ida. Many sponsors, donors, volunteers, and community partners collaborated to bring these two homes from being nonexistent to ribbon-cutting quality

The team at Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) built both homes in Dulac thanks to a $850,000 grant from BCF’s Bayou Recovery Fund for Hurricane Ida Relief, a $100,000 from long time BCF supporter, Benny Cenac, and other community donations.  Also contributing, was support from the Governor’s Hurricane Ida Relief and Recovery Fund.

What’s remarkable about this project is that the grant funds merely were used to purchase building materials, while the actual construction labor was provided at no cost by MDS volunteers. Outside of MDS, homeowners contributed both insurance costs and FEMA proceeds they received toward construction costs, and appliances were donated by the nonprofit, Rebuilding Together Bayou. All of this community collaboration resulted in the construction and unveiling of two homes for families, such as Abraham and Robin Parfait and their two sons, who lost their home along with all of their belongings after Hurricane Ida’s winds ripped off the roof of their family home.

Money raised for the Bayou Recovery Fund will allow MDS to ultimately construct 10 new houses and complete 40 or more major home repairs in Dulac. This will allow for 50 families to be able to return home after retreating from Hurricane Ida’s ravaging of the area.  “After Hurricane Ida made landfall here on August 29, Bayou Community Foundation recognized that our community’s recovery depended on providing homes for the neediest who lost so much. We are grateful to MDS for sending volunteers to Dulac and working with us to fill this critical housing need,” a statement from Bayou Community Foundation President, Henry Lafont, read.

Looking forward, MDS built the homes to withstand future storms that will hit the area. Ranging from two to three-bedroom homes, these houses are built for storm resilience as part of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes “Strong Homes Initiative.” This initiative provides donated services along with products to upgrade homes to be of the IBHS Fortified hurricane wind standard, meaning that these houses can withstand up to 160 MPH winds and are elevated to well above the FEMA requirements.

At the Dedication Ceremony, it was announced that multiple donations were received. According to a press release from BCF, one major donor to the BCF Bayou Recovery Fund announced a challenge grant designed to continue the funding of home rebuilding and repair work in Dulac this fall. According to The Houma Times, “the Ray & Kay Eckstein Charitable Trust Fund has committed $500,000 to support the project with the challenge that BCF raise an additional $500,000, providing at least $1 million to fund another building season with MDS beginning in October 2022.”

Benny Cenac’s support of Bayou Community Foundation

 Arlen “Benny” Cenac has been a longtime supporter of the Bayou Community Foundation and the work they do to sustain the communities of Lafourche, Terrebonne, and Grand Isle. In addition to his most recent donation of $100,000 for recovery efforts made post Hurricane Ida, he also made a sizeable donation during the height of the pandemic to assist businesses dealing with the complications of shut downs and quarantines. In addition to countless other donations and acts of support, Benny Cenac is proud to be a founding member of the Bayou Community Foundation. BCF was founded in 2012 by a group of business leaders and philanthropists who recognized a need for a community foundation to strengthen human services, education/workforce development, and coastal preservation efforts in the local area, and to assist in natural disasters and other emergencies.

If you are interested in supporting Bayou Community Foundation and the Bayou Recovery fund, please visit https://www.bayoucf.org/disaster-recovery/ to make your donation or get involved.

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Gonzalez Internet Provider Surprises Nonprofits with Ida Recovery Donations

Two nonprofit organizations were surprised with $2,500 grants by the generosity of a Gonzales internet provider, according to this news article from Houma Today.  REV Broadband and Vision Communications recently wanted to give back to local organizations that have been giving “so much over the last several months” during Hurricane Ida recovery, according to Chief Financial Officer Peter Louviere. This wanting to give back has resulted in the awarding of a $2,500 donation to the Bless Your Heart volunteer organization in Larose, Louisiana. Volunteers with Bless Your Heart have been working continuously to help residents rebuild from damages that were sustained from Hurricane Ida, which was particularly devastating to the area.

In addition to Bless Your Heart receiving a donation, REV Broadband, which is the parent company of several telecommunications businesses such as RTC, EATEL & EATEL Business, Vision Communications & VENYU, also gave a $2,500 donation to the St. John United Way, which is also located in Larose.

According to REV Broadband and Vision Communications, both companies were quite surprised by the unexpected donations. A news release from REV reported that “representatives from both organizations were invited to individual meetings to discuss the potential of filming a production about their work in the community — specifically in the form of aiding citizens affected by Hurricane Ida. In the place of a meeting, the nonprofit representatives were surprised with a donation made on behalf of REV’s executive leadership.”

Both the St. John United Way and Bless Your Heart have continued to play big roles in helping the community with Ida recovery. The Category 4 storm made landfall on August 29.   CFO Peter Louviere told HoumaToday, “we continue to hear so much about the great work these two organizations continue to do – bringing positive, lasting impact to the communities we serve and live within. It’s not only an honor to be able to present these donations to such deserving organizations but to do so on behalf of our 400 employees really makes this rewarding.”

REV Broadband reported that more than 60,000 of its customers were impacted in some way by Hurricane Ida, so for them to make an effort to donate funds right back to the on-the-ground organizations that were and still are assisting their customer base is an effort to show support to a community that was impacted by the detrimental storm. So far, Bless Your Heart reported that they’ve raised over $500,000, have helped over 1,000 people, and have donated more than 100,000 pounds of supplies since 2020, when the nonprofit organization was founded.

One of the people who helped to launch Bless Your Heart is Jeray Jarreau, an attorney in LaRose. He gave a statement relaying that he was particularly grateful for the donation. He said, “Bless Your Heart is overwhelmed and humbled that RTC-EATEL-Vision would choose to donate to our organization. RTC-EATEL-Vision’s support of our organization exemplifies its continued dedication to help[ing] Lafourche Parish recover after the devastating effects of Hurricane Ida.”

This news from REV Broadband comes at a similar time that The Bayou Community Foundation has announced that their Bayou Recovery Fund for Hurricane Ida Relief has awarded over $3.7 million to nonprofits located in Terrebonne, Lafourche, and Grand Isle. While the full list of grants can be found at this link, HoumaToday reported that the grant money was essentially broken down as follows:

  • $1.4 million for emergency services immediately following the Aug. 29 storm.
  • $1.4 million for housing programs
  • $700,000 for direct financial assistance to individuals, families, emergency responders, andcommunity recovery projects
  • $230,000 for local nonprofit organizations to repair their buildings or replace lost equipment so that they could resume operations and deliver critical programs to residents.

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Nicholls Nursing Students receive Clinical Lab Coats from United Houma Nation

Nursing students at Nicholls State University will be receiving clinical lab coats thanks to a large donation from the United Houma Nation, as per the university. The United Houma Nation (UHN) donated approximately $20,000 worth of clinical lab coats to Nicholls’ Department of Nursing in order to assist students by covering an important and often costly part of their enrollment in the program.

After Hurricane Ida passed in 2021 and massive amounts of damage and destruction were surveyed in Thibodaux Parish, the UHN had received various donations of supplies that were to be distributed to the affected community. Among these supplies were numerous boxes of nearly $20,000 of clinical lab coats, and these boxes were discovered by Cami Dardar. Dardar is both a senior student of nursing at Nicholls and a member of the UHN, so when she discovered the boxes of lab coats while organizing the donations, she jumped to action.

Dardar told Nicholls press, “I knew I had to get in contact with Dr. Raquel Engolio to get these uniforms out. I really think this is from God because the uniforms could have gone anywhere and out of all the people involved, I knew what to do with them. I would have never thought that being a nursing student and a member of the UNH would ever cross paths. It’s amazing to see two important parts of my life come together.”

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program at Nicholls admits 160 students annually with approximately 80 students admitted each semester. Each student is responsible for procuring their own clinical lab coat, which can be costly as these coats are valued at about $115. Stacked against tuition, textbooks, and other supplies, it’s certainly advantageous for nursing students to be recipients of this UHN donation.

In reflecting on the significance of a Nicholls student who may or may not have had their entire lives upended by Hurricane Ida receive this symbolic and vital part of their Nursing education, Dardar said, “to see another student who needs the uniform due to losing them in the storm or can’t afford them is just a feeling I can’t describe.” She continued, “I remember my first semester and how much of a burden it was to afford these uniforms. Now, students don’t have to worry. It is an honor to bless upcoming students with these coats.”

Head of Nicholls’ Department of Nursing and assistant professor of nursing Dr. Englio commented on the donation by saying, “this wonderful donation will assist Nicholls Nursing students by saving them both time and money. We are very grateful to have this type of support from the community and from one of our students. The timing of the donation is perfect. It is also very meaningful to future registered nurses and will help them have a positive clinical experience.

These donated clinical lab coats were primarily donated on November 5, 2021 at a dedicated donation event organized by Principal Chief August “Coco” Creppel, in which a team of UHN members delivered and handed out approximately 450 lab coats to new clinical students.

New students admitted to the Department of Nursing previously were able to attend a Nursing-exclusive job fair last semester. The job fair was organized by the university’s Career Services, and it provided current and former graduates of Nicholls’ nursing programs to meet, interview with, and connect with potential employers. Employers attending the Nursing Career Job Fair were healthcare providers from hospitals and other healthcare groups across Louisiana.

Over the past decade, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an on-average projection of about 194,500 job openings for registered nurses with the typical entry-level education required being a Bachelor’s degree. That being said, the donation of lab coats from the United Houma Nation is massively appreciated by Nicholls’ nursing students.

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