For the city of Houma, Louisiana, the devastation from Hurricane Ida is apocalyptic.
Located 60 miles southwest of New Orleans, the community has seen major storms before, but never has the suffering been so great.
A local bowling alley smashed to pieces, a supermarket almost blown apart, a clothing store destroyed, homes wrecked, business after business battered to the point of being unrecognizable.
Everywhere, there are scenes that look like they have been eerily staged for a disaster movie. But the damage is real, and now serving as a backdrop to residents’ survival stories.
Punishing winds of more than 120 mph for at least four hours – with gusts up to 150 mph – have left every home in the 100,000-population city damaged in some way.
Aftermath: Bowl South bowling alley in Houma, Louisiana is now a pile of debris after being smashed by Hurricane Ida on Sunday. Pictured: Pro-shop manager Larry Grabert, 40, stands amid the remains of the venue, which he described as his ‘second home’
Ida tore through the 27,000 sq ft 24-lane bowling alley complex, smashing its windows, blasting out the huge brick wall at the back of the building and ripping off the steel roof, but leaving the bowling balls in a neat row
Many of the bowling alley’s tables and chairs remain in place among the rubble after Houma was hit by winds of up to 150 mph during Hurricane Ida
General view of the exterior of Bowl South bowling alley after being wrecked by Ida over the weekend
The full force of Ida’s rain and winds saturated the interior of the bowling alley. Inside, roof insulation covered the floor, creating a deep, sodden carpet with pools of water
Ida’s eye passed five miles from Houma. ‘That is the most dangerous, just beside the eye,’ said fire chief Eddie Berthelot
Around one in 10 buildings have had their roof torn off or partially destroyed – and eight out of ten need some roof work, local fire chief Eddie Berthelot told DailyMail.com.
Incredibly, there has been no loss of life reported so far in the city. ‘And that is truly a miracle,’ added Berthelot.
The most bizarre spectacle is Bowl South in east Houma, formerly a 27,000 sq ft bowling alley complex with 24 lanes and a loyal local following.
Ida treated it with contempt. She blew in the windows, then blasted out the huge brick wall at the back of the building and ripped off the steel roof.
As dawn broke on Monday just hours after the hurricane continued her path north, the business’s surreal fate was revealed.
Through the smashed windows, bowling balls are still in place. Chairs and tables keel at crazy angles. Bowling shoes remain tucked under one of the counters. The bowling lanes are still there.
But the outer layer of the roof is completely missing and the second layer is half gone – which means the full force of Ida’s rains saturated the interior. Roof insulation covers the floor, creating a deep, sodden carpet with pools of water.
Save a Lot supermarket was badly damaged. The front of the store was completely blown out, metal roofing was hanging down, and inside, peppers, melons and other fresh produce were still on display, seemingly untouched by the ferocious winds
Next door, clothing store Citi Trends provided the same scene, albeit with different goods. Outside, sheets of glass littered the sidewalk. Inside the ceiling had vanished, while piles of women’s tops, bras and other clothing somehow stayed in place
A local beauty salon was among the casualties of the violent storm which tore off the store’s entire front
Inside the salon, fixtures stayed relatively intact, but with its front blown off the business now seems like a giant doll’s house
Pro-shop manager Larry Grabert, 40, stood amidst the devastation. ‘It’s insane,’ he said.
‘This place is like my second home, has been since the 1990s. It’s survived all the other storms, but had no answer for this one.’
He continued: ‘Somebody made a TikTok video as they passed here Sunday night, so I saw the whole inside and I could see part of the roof was missing.
‘I had to stew since 11:30 last night waiting for sun-up to come for me to see it for myself.
‘It was way worse than I was expecting. It is just devastating. I’d say the place is a total loss. It looks so weird. All the stuff is here, but soaking wet and blown apart. That back wall was brick, but it didn’t stand a chance.’
East Houma was battered harder than the rest of the city. Close to Bowl South, at the Caillou Plaza, the Save a Lot supermarket revealed a similarly bizarre spectacle.
The front was completely blown out, metal roofing was hanging down – and inside peppers, melons and other fresh produce were still on display, seemingly untouched by the ferocious winds.
All across Houma, business after business were battered to the point of being unrecognizable. Ida’s powerful gusts were even able to tear down a bail bondsman’s billboard near the city’s Little Village Shopping Center
Resident Clifton Connerly, 43, and his fiancée survived the storm by taking shelter in his trailer, but his partner’s car (pictured) was wrecked by a falling tree
While the couple was miraculously able to make it out alive, Clifton Connerly told DailyMail.com they spent six hours praying for their survival as they heard the metal sides and screws of the home coming undone
Next door, clothing store Citi Trends provided the same scene, albeit with different goods. Outside, sheets of glass littered the sidewalk. Inside the ceiling had vanished, while piles of women’s tops, bras and other clothing somehow stayed in place.
Driving along Great Caillou Road, row after row of household name businesses such as AT&T and Dominos had their buildings destroyed or severely damaged. A huge sign for a bail bond company, incongruously featuring a photo of a beautiful woman, lay on its side.
Over the road, a tree smashed down on to the roof of a blue house. And a few hundred yards from there, another tree was blown over crushing a car in the driveway of the home of landscaper Clifton Connerly, 43.
Houma District Fire Chief Eddie Berthelot, 50, said the department – miraculously – did not have to make any rescues
He was praying for his life with fiancée Amanda Gregoir, 42, when Ida hit.
He told Dailymail.com: ‘This hurricane was like nothing else I have ever faced.
‘We had nothing, no phone, no power, nothing to give up updates as it hit. All we had was the mercy of God.
‘Because this was no ordinary storm, certainly not the one first predicted.’
He continued: ‘We hunkered down in my place. I prayed as hard as I could. And the only person I wanted to talk to was God. The only person who could help us as a time like that.
‘What I endured during this storm was life or death. And the damage we received was life changing damage.
‘The whole perimeter of my property is destroyed. We were hunkered down for six or more hours straight. It was terrifying.’
The couple share a sturdy metal trailer home. Somehow it held together. Clifton described what it was like inside as Ida did her worst, saying: ‘It was literally going up and down, the metal sides just lifting up,’ he said. ‘There were screws coming loose. You hear all the horrific noises around you. It was very scary.’
He continued: ‘When the storm went, I felt blessed. I felt grateful for my life. I felt shined upon and favored from the man above. Thank God I survived and thank God a lot of other people survived it. We had to ride this our because I wasn’t really organized to seek shelter elsewhere.’
Amanda, who owns the wrecked Ford Fusion, said: ‘I was real scared, I prayed the whole time. When I came out and saw the car I was heartbroken. I have had it almost two years. The car is gone, but I have my life. That is good enough for me.’
Across the street is another bizarre sight. The entire front of a beauty parlor has been blown away, leaving the rest of the business intact – like a giant doll’s house.
Pictured: The Houma Fire Department. District Chief Eddie Berthelot, 50, (far left) described the hurricane as the worst storm he had ever seen
Gerard (pictured) and Jean Ellender stood in the yard of their 150-year-old home and looked in disbelief at what Ida had done to their three-bedroom house in Houma, which has been in the family for 100 years
Joan Ellender, 67, stands inside her home which suffered extensive damage to the roof after being smashed by Ida
The Ellenders had taken shelter elsewhere but never imagined they’d be met with such scenes of destruction after they arrived to check up on their home, they said
District fire chief Berthelot, 50, revealed the city’s damage statistics as he sat with his exhausted crew. They didn’t have to make any rescues, but had been on duty since Saturday – going out to check street after street thoroughly once the hurricane had passed through.
‘It is amazing there is no loss of life. In fact as I speak now, there is not one human casualty. That is truly a miracle,’ he said.
‘I have been through 35 to 40 serious storms in my life, including Katrina. And nothing compared to this thing that just hit us.
‘Those other storms passed real close or gave us a direct hit. But this thing came in with a vengeance. The eye wall of the storm passed five miles outside the city. And that is the most dangerous, just beside the eye.
‘I am also a charter boat captain so I can estimate winds fairly well. We had steady 120s and gusts up to 150, 160. And that lasted four hours.’
However, despite serving others, the fire chief has no idea if his own house is still standing. ‘I live 25 miles away and have no idea if the place survived,’ he said.
Houma police station was ripped apart by Ida. Its roof peeled back and walls badly damaged. One exhausted officer, who did not want to be named, said: ‘I’ve been working 36 hours straight, we just about all have.
‘This city is devastated, man. Ida brought heartbreak to us. And now it is happening in slow motion, because there’s no water, there’s no power, no supplies and people are hurting. So many of their homes are destroyed.’
He spoke as a National Guard Black Hawk helicopter circled overhead. ‘They’re reviewing, assessing the damage from the air, seeing what needs to be done,’ said the officer.
‘We have also been contending with looters. Large parts of the city were mandatory evacuation areas. Once that announcement goes out it’s like feeding chum to sharks. The looters are out.
Resident Jeremy Hodges climbs up the side of his family’s destroyed storage unit in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida on Monday
Damage is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Monday, August 30, 2021, in Houma, Louisiana
‘We have dealt with several cases already, homes as well as businesses. And we know there will be more reports once those who left the area return.’
He also revealed: ‘I obviously had to stay but my wife left for her own safety. And I’m saying to her now, don’t come back for at least a week because the place is a disaster zone.’
Gerard and Jean Ellender stood in the yard of their 150-year-old home and looked in disbelief at what Ida had done to their three-bedroom house in Houma, which has been in the family for 100 years.
Half the roof was lifted off, a screen porch was blown clean away and ended up behind the property – dramatically captured by a neighbor across the road on her phone.
The couple hunkered down during the storm with daughter Sarah at her nearby brick-built home, joined by other daughter Jessica, 45.
Joan, 67, said: ‘We drove up this morning and I would never have imagined this much damage. I have survived many hurricanes, Camille, Betsy and Katrina. But I have never experienced anything like this.
‘When I saw what was likely coming, I said to my husband ‘we have to get out’. He was determined to stay but I convinced him. Thank God I did.’
Joan clasped her arms across her chest and then showed Dailymail.com around the ruined home, which is built with cypress wood. Treasured family possessions lay sodden underneath a wide open expanse where the roof had been just 24 hours earlier.
And she was also worried about further weather damage which would mean remaining roof or even walls could collapse.
‘I don’t know yet if the house is truly salvageable. It is going to take such a lot to make the structure strong again.’ Pointing behind her and holding back tears, she said: ‘If this section now collapse, that’s half my house.
Ida has now downgraded to a tropical storm and is passing through northeast Louisiana. She is expected to cut through north west Alabama on Tuesday morning the pass through Tennessee, traveling into West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey by Thursday before showering New York on Friday and eventually moving
Many Houma residents, who lived through Hurricane Katrina, described the storm as the worst they’ve ever experienced
Officials say Ida’s winds reached a steady 120 mph with gusts up to 150, 160, and battered the city for four hours
‘I’m at the point now where I’m thinking, if anything more happens I’m just going to take our good things and go somewhere else. We’ll just have to go and not come back.’
Husband Gerard, 73, whose family farms and leases out 600 acres in the area, looked at the wreckage and calmly said: ‘We have to deal with this the best we can. We have friends who have come over to help make it secure.
‘All we can do is cover everything because there is no power. You can’t get new supplies, everything is closed.
‘We’ve seen plenty of storms before but this one was something else. I also believe a tornado went through here and stripped a whole lot of trees.
‘We are just lucky that everybody is alive and safe.’ Gesturing to the house, he added: ‘You can replace these things, people are different.
‘This house has been in my family since the 1920s. And I just renovated this place. The original portion of the house is easily 150 years old. It has survived other hurricanes, but Ida smashed it. I have been in a lot of storms before and I believe there were 150 mph gusts here yesterday.
Daughter Jessica, 45, said: ‘My dad wanted to stay but my mom wouldn’t let him. We came back this morning to check on the house. A neighbor across the street sent us a video, so we knew it was bad. But nothing prepared us for this. It is like everything has just gone.
‘The winds last night were astonishing, it was terrible. I can’t tell you how many trees I have seen that have literally been pulled out of the ground. That is unheard of. I’m talking about big trees, 100 years old, just uprooted.
‘We know with hurricanes what comes with them, but at the same time this one came so fast there was not much time to prepare. No time to board the place up properly. Half this house is gone. My father will want to salvage it, but we don’t know if it can really be saved.’
Neighbor Connie Tippett, who filmed the roof coming off at 4:54pm said: ‘Suddenly there was a loud bang as it went. It was incredible, I could hardly believe it was happening.’
Many major roads between communities south of New Orleans were blocked by fallen power lines, smashed trees or flooding on Monday. Gradually, some began to open up.
But floodwaters remained for some, with the community of Des Allemandes between Houma and New Orleans still awash. Many houses were remained half-sunken, with cars sitting stranded like boats in the water.
In LaPlace, farther north towards Baton Rouge, trucks were stranded in acres of flood water which surrounded hotels and other businesses.