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In Ironton, Hurricane Ida floodwaters impact homes and cemeteries

Flood water from Ida still sits on some properties in lower Plaquemines Parish in the town of Ironton.
Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 6:01 PM CDT
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PLAQUEMINES PARISH, La. (WVUE) - The Ironton community in Plaquemines Parish is not only dealing with damage to their homes, but damage to long-time family cemeteries where caskets of loved ones are now strewn throughout the neighborhood.

“To look now... It just goes through you,” said Pearl Sylve, who has lived in the Ironton community for 80 years. Looking at her damaged home and the damaged cemetery where her entire family is buried is heartbreaking.

“It’s rough,” she said. “It’s devastating.”

Tombs from the community cemetery were swept away in Hurricane Ida’s storm surge, some of the caskets now laying in the yards of her neighbors.

Her home was swept off its foundation; everything inside is a total loss.

“When I left, my house was in good shape. When I returned back, it was in that shape,” she said.

Like Sylve, her neighbor Audrey Trufant Salvant is also coping.

“I’m trying to process all of this,” said Trufant Salvant looking at the cemetery where she buried her brother one day before Hurricane Ida’s landfall. “Then come the hurricane, so it’s just a lot to take in.”

She’s grieving the loss of her loved one, and the changed landscape of her hometown, all while state officials with the Louisiana Cemetery Response Task Force begin assessing, recovering and identifying the displaced caskets.

“It is heartbreaking,” said Trufant Salvant. “We’ve gone through this so many times before and [the] only answer to all of this would be levee protection.”

Ricky Boyett, spokesperson with the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans division said the levees in lower Plaquemines Parish performed as they were designed to do. But elevation of the land near Ironton is to blame for the flooding.

“With the Plaquemines area, the entire West Bank we’re building what we call the New Orleans to Venice project,” said Boyett. This project has been going on for years. Boyett said it should bring the levee systems in lower Plaquemines up to federal standards.

“With the communities such as Ironton and Myrtle Grove, you have a land elevation that ranges from zero to three feet below sea level. What we are going to do is come in and build a levee that ranges from 10 feet to 14 feet,” he said.

Something he said will significantly reduce risks to towns-- like Ironton-- from storms like Ida.

When it comes to the levees, Boyett said the contract for the New Orleans to Venice levee project is currently out for bid, and they hope to begin moving dirt by the end of the year. Right now, he said, the Army Corps of Engineers is working on getting into the hardest-hit places to remove sitting floodwaters by bringing in pumps.

Boyett said the Corps has people in place to do both recovery and focus on the levee projects.

And while Ironton is pieced back together, the community stays strong.

“So this is home and I plan to return,” said Trufant Salvant.

“And until the levee is back, I guess we’ll live with what this looks like... who knows,” said Sylve.

Regarding the displaced caskets, the state-- not the parish-- is responsible for identifying, assessing and recovering them. However, they do work together.

Ryan Seidemann, chair of the La. Cemetery Response Task Force, said this recovery process is tedious and is done in several phases. Recovery is also dependent on the ground condition which can determine the duration of this process.

Seidemann says many of the caskets have identifying features, like nameplates-- something he said was mandated after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In the event the casket does not have a nameplate or identifying feature, he said a skeletal analysis may be necessary.

In Ironton, he said there are about 30 caskets, give or take, throughout the community. In total, including Lafitte and other areas with cemetery damage, he believes it’s below 70.

But the biggest problem is getting into these areas that are still dealing with significant damage and water.

“We want to make sure it’s properly dealt with,” said Seidemann when it comes to recovering caskets and damaged cemeteries.

To contact the Louisiana Cemetery Response Task Force, call (225) 326-6056 or email at cemeterytaskforce@ag.louisiana.gov.

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