LaPlace residents and officials survey Hurricane Ida damage as waters recede: 'This is too much' Get hurricane updates in your inbox

For most of the night on Sunday, Leopold Dawson huddled in his attic in the Palmetto Lakes subdivision as his one-story brick ranch house filled with storm water. A 911 dispatcher told him no help would come as Hurricane Ida raged outside.

But if that experience scared Dawson, the 69-year-old retiree wouldn't admit it Tuesday morning, as he began the hard work of gutting the same house he stripped bare after it was swamped by Hurricane Isaac nine years ago almost to the day.

"I'm here, so I might as well do something," he said. "Some people won't be back for months."

Across St. John the Baptist Parish on Tuesday, residents who weathered the storm were making hard decisions about whether to stay and start the cleanup or hit the road with until power and water return.

Gov. John Bel Edwards touched down by helicopter in a Walmart parking lot Tuesday morning, where Hurricane Ida just 48 hour earlier lashed parish residents with catastrophic mix of wind, rain and storm surge.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us. And no one is under the illusion that this is going to be a short process," Edwards said after getting briefed by local officials. "We're going to be with you all for the long haul."

Eight hundred people who stayed during the storm in St. John were rescued Monday by a team of local law enforcement officials and out-of-state volunteers, accounting for 80 percent of rescues statewide, Edwards said.

Infrastructure damage is still being assessed. Water remains out of service and there's no time frame for when it will be restored. Power for much of the parish could be out for longer than 30 days, said Sheriff Mike Tregre.

For evacuees thinking of returning home, Tregre said: "Just sit still."

Nevertheless, some residents returned from places like Houston and Jackson for a quick look on Tuesday as roads began to clear. Ida left an unpredictable patchwork of disaster in the parish, sparing some houses while walloping others on the same blocks.

Shelvin Dumas was philosophical as he surveyed the water damage at his house with a fine cigar in his hand. Sure, it reeked of sewage and he would have to gut a foot up the wall. But no one died.

LaPlace residents and officials survey Hurricane Ida damage as waters recede: 'This is too much' Get hurricane updates in your inbox

“We lost some material things,” Dumas said. “But for Christmas, everyone will be able to get together.”

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Dumas, a carpenter who helped restore houses in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said he was giving himself a 90-day timeline to repair his house.

Although the neighborhood often floods, Dumas said he was encouraged to stay by the pending construction of a $760 million back levee against Lake Pontchartrain that should finally provide some protection.

“I had a feeling this was gonna happen before it gets completed,” Dumas said. “Hopefully next week we’re not doing the same thing.”

But others in the Palmetto Lakes subdivision said they couldn’t bear the thought of staying for the next storm.

Sunday night felt like a horror movie, said Elaine Zentz, 72, who jumped on top of a bed with her daughter to escape the water pulsing into their house. Her family wept with relief when her daughter's husband was finally able to reach them around 6 a.m. Monday in his red truck.

Zentz’s daughter, Kimberly Duronslet, said there was no way she would go back to the house. She moved into it a year and a week ago -- after her previous house nearby was destroyed in a fire. In the last year, she also survived a bout of COVID-19.

“We can’t do this anymore,” she said. “This is too much. Too much trauma.”

Duronslet plans to move her family to Las Vegas. She may have someone else clean the residence. After a sleepless night in Kenner on Monday, and a few hours at the house on Tuesday, her husband put their Bibles in his red truck and the family left.

Officials said that while there was no loss of life in St. John, they were only beginning to comprehend the scope of the damage.

"This is actually the worst storm that I've seen in the whole time I've been in Louisiana," said state Rep. Randall Gaines, a LaPlace Democrat.

"It looks like a warzone or a bomb went off throughout the parish. There's no part that's unaffected," said state Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco.

"This is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. This is going to be very difficult. Worst disaster that we’ve all seen in St. John Parish. And it’s going to take a long time," said Parish President Jaclyn Hotard.

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