Science

Their Lives Have Been Upended by Hurricane Ida

Duy Linh Tu: I’m Duy Linh Tu, and this is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science. 

Hurricane Ida slammed into the Louisiana coast on Sunday.  By landfall, it was a category 4 storm. 150 mile an hour winds brought down trees, power lines, even whole buildings.  Over a million people have lost power in the state and at least one person has died.  

I’m a documentary filmmaker.  Just two weeks ago, I was in the same place where Ida came ashore. I was working on another film for Scientific American.  This one about Louisiana’s attempts to save its coastline after decades of erosion.  Ida is just another massive blow to a state that still loses a football field of coastline every hour.

During my reporting, I had met Theresa and Donald Dardar, a couple in their 60s from the Pointe Aux Chenes Native American tribe.  

Their community lives right along the gulf coast and has seen over 90 percent of their land lost to erosion over the past several decades. But unlike many in the area, the couple never moved. 

Theresa Dardar: Sure we could build a house, buy a house somewhere else, but it would never be the same. This is the roots. Just like a plant, when you root, a plant. And you leave it in the sun, it’s going to die.

Theresa Dardar outside her home in Pointe Aux Chenes, Louisiana, a few months before Hurricane Ida hit. Credit: Duy Linh Tu

Tu: That was Theresa speaking to me in my first film about coastal erosion in Louisiana.  At the time, she and her husband Donald had no plans to leave their home, no matter how threatening the waters or winds got.

But this weekend, with Ida bearing down, mandatory evacuations were called. Theresa and Donald loaded up their car with their two dogs and headed to Texarkana, TX, a six hour drive away.  This was the only place they could find a hotel.  

They had to leave most of their possessions, including Donald’s five year old horse Pretty Girl, back on the levee.

I’ve been calling and texting with Theresa throughout the weekend.  We’ve been sharing what little information we have about possible damage to her home and community.

This was my most recent call to her.

Tu: Hi…any new news since we last talked.

Dardar: And the news we’ve been getting is bad…we heard Donald’s uncle lost his home…It looks like a war zone….we did get water.

Tu: Theresa has been getting updates from her relatives who stayed behind, when their cell phones work. Most news outlets have focused on the larger cities.  Texts and Facebook posts have been her only news from Pointe Aux Chene.

Dardar: Usually we get no publicity…people don’t even know our tribe exists. …

Tu: Is this the big one…

Dardar: I’d hate to see what the big one looks like….Right now we have no running water…we have to use bayou water to flush the toilet….My prayer is that we have some place to go back to…I can’t control it.

Tu: A few hours after we talked, Theresa texted me some good news.  A cousin had checked on her house and it was still standing. A lot of damage but still standing.  And, Donald’s horse had survived the storm.

Donald and Theresa plan to drive the six hours back home today to begin clean up.  But the roads leading up to their house are still flooded and unpassable. Theresa says they’ll figure things out when they get there.

For Scientific American’s 60-second science, I’m Duy Linh Tu.

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