“It messed people up,” said Haywood Johnson, pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Ironton. “They are shocked at the extent of the destruction, but they are even more overwhelmed by their loved ones floating and eventually ending up in the streets and in people’s yards and on the side of the levee and out in the field, and it’s easy , just overwhelming. “
Ironton is on the west bank of the Mississippi in Plaquemines Parish, about 25 miles southeast of New Orleans.
Johnson, 74, told CNN that he was born and raised there and has pastor the Church for 22 years.
The all-black community is very close and families have lived there for generations, Johnson said.
Johnson labeled many of the caskets with the names of the people in them – a father and daughter whose caskets were resting side by side in someone’s garden; a man whose coffin is now upside down on a dam; and another man whose burial tomb moved two or three thousand feet and landed right in front of the church.
“One of the things that bothered me is that I was the one who buried most of these people, most of the deceased, and it was like pulling the scab off a wound,” Johnson said.
The coffins were enclosed in above-ground graves made of cement and other heavy materials.
Johnson said he is still looking for his mother, uncle and sister’s coffins. And he couldn’t reach some parts of the cemetery to inspect other family graves.
Finding missing loved ones is made difficult by the tall grass, swamp mud and snakes, Johnson said.
Members of the Louisiana Cemetery Response Task Force and their contractors were in Ironton Tuesday to see what it would take to retrieve the coffins and take them to a staging area where they can be identified before moving them to their proper resting places be returned.
“You can’t do without heavy equipment,” said task force chairman Ryan Seidemann, who found that some of the coffins and their vaults weighed tons.
“When I was in this community cemetery, I was up to my knees in the dirt, so I looked for a crane or some other type of vehicle.” [machinery] Lifting and lifting those heavy weights is going to be a challenge, “he said.
Seidemann estimates that at least 30 to 40 caskets and vaults were laid. But he said the task force will have a better idea in the coming weeks when they clean up the site.
The community of about 175 people is between 0 and 3 feet below sea level, RenÃ© PochÃ©, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told CNN.
PochÃ© said the levees near Ironton and other communities in the area were not built by the federal government and were basically mounds of earth.
They offered little protection from the storm surge when Ida landed near Port Fourchon, southwest of Ironton, on August 29, according to the National Weather Service.
“So we had all of the water that was blown counterclockwise out of the Gulf from this cycle, and then the rain that came with it,” said PochÃ©.
Johnson said people in his community have been calling for better dyke protection for years. He said many residents had to rebuild twice – after Hurricane Katrina, which struck exactly 16 years before Ida and Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
“We thought this would be the last time,” said Johnson. “But this time here with Ida it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve been in hurricanes, but I’ve never seen one.”
No one lives in Ironton right now, Johnson said because houses that were elevated suffered storm damage and those at ground level were “completely decimated.”
The National Guard has been working to clear the streets in Ironton, but that effort has been slow because there is still stagnant water, the Post said. FEMA also encourages residents to apply for housing and other disaster relief.
Johnson said everything on the first floor of the church was ruined but he plans to rebuild.
âThis is the house of the Lord and it is my responsibility to take the initiative,â he said.
She told WVUE that she buried her brother in the cemetery the day before Ida’s landing.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Trufant Salvant told WVUE. “We’ve been through this so many times and [the] The only answer to all of this would be dike protection. “
Work would begin in December or January, he said, and it would take about two years to build miles of levees 10 to 14 feet high.
Long way to go
The waters of Hurricane Ida also displaced graves in Jefferson Parish, Seidemann said, and wind damage and fallen trees have damaged cemeteries near the Mississippi border.
He said the task force had received calls from Ironton and other areas affected by Ida.
“What we hear from them is, ‘We have a coffin or we have a safe in our garden,’ but it’s not that they call because it’s a nuisance,” he said. “They call us because ‘that’s someone’s darling and we want him to be treated right.'”
Seidemann said it could take up to two years to identify everyone and bring them back to a restored cemetery.
“The process is so intense, you know, to make sure we’re getting it right,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to be buried in the wrong place or buried again in the wrong place.”