Tornadoes damage homes, skip church
The funnel cloud was taking dead aim Feb. 23 at Dale and Susan St. Pierre’s home on East Frisco Drive in LaPlace – located less than a block from Ascension of Our Lord Church – and it was time for their family to duck and cover.
Instinctively, Dale told his wife, daughter and mother to get to the home’s center hallway and lie down while he protected them with his prostrate body.
“The hallway has walls on each side,” Dale said. “We didn’t have time. We had the will of God.”
The terror of a tornado packed with 140 mph winds was over in less than a minute, and when the St. Pierres had a chance to see what had happened, they discovered their roof had been torn from its moorings.
More than a dozen tornadoes touched down in south Louisiana Feb. 23, and the St. Pierres were among the fortunate. Just up the Mississippi River in Convent, Louisiana, a tornado blew through a trailer park, killing two people.
Some had repeat damage
In LaPlace, about 200 homes either were destroyed or heavily damaged but there were no fatalities. For some residents, it was a repeat brush with the forces of nature, having seen their homes flooded in 2012 by Hurricane Isaac.
“The same neighborhood that we were in after Isaac got exactly hit again,” said Tom Costanza, division director of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, who also headed the agency’s disaster response after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “It was the same people. This was different because it wasn’t a water event. This was wind damage. The amazing thing is the tornado jumped over the church.”
The path of destruction seemed to bear that out. The St. Pierres’ home is less than a block from the church, where the St. Pierres have served as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and where Susan St. Pierre has been a CCD teacher for 20 years. The debris trail indicates the tornado touched down in the residential area near the church and then picked up again on the other side of the church.
Church had minor damage
The church itself had minor roof damage, said Father Walter Austin, Ascension’s pastor.
“It jumped over it,” Father Austin said. “Houses on one side were wiped out and a big utility pole on the other side of the church was wiped out. We had a little bit of roof damage but nothing substantial.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond came home early from a committee meeting of U.S. bishops in Tampa, Florida, to assess the damage and pray with residents on Feb. 24. In a letter to all parishes Feb. 28, Archbishop Aymond requested relief donations to be sent to his office for distribution to Catholic Charities.
The archbishop visited Place Dubourg, an archdiocesan residence for 115 seniors, which sustained damage to its exterior and roof from flying debris but was otherwise undamaged. A generator installed after Hurricane Isaac helped preserve electrical power to the first-floor community area, allowing 60 of the residents who stayed during the storm to have some degree of comfort.
A tractor trailer from a Lowe’s store in Biloxi, Mississippi, arrived a day after the storm to distribute flashlights to the residents. A group of students from Riverside Academy went inside to help residents whose windows were blown in clean up their apartments.
No injuries at Place Dubourg
“Thanks be to God nobody was injured,” said Deacon Dennis Adams, executive director of Christopher Homes, the archdiocesan affordable housing program. “We really had just one apartment that was uninhabitable because one of the windows blew in, but there wasn’t a lot of damage in the apartment.”” Parishioners of three local Catholic churches – Ascension of Our Lord and St. Joan of Arc in LaPlace and Our Lady of Grace in Reserve – took rotations cooking meals for affected residents.
Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, an affiliated ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, distributed truckloads of disaster relief boxes, non-perishable food and cleaning supplies.
The boxes, donated by Abbott Laboratories, contain high-energy food and drink that require no refrigeration or heating, said Natalie Jayroe, president and CEO of Second Harvest. Residents also received snacks and box lunches.
Father Patrick Collum, pastor of St. Joan of Arc, and Josephite Father Christopher Amadi, pastor of Our Lady of Grace, said their parishioners pitched in to help by cooking meals. Vernon Bailey’s home in Our Lady of Grace Parish was damaged and without power, but parishioners were outside using propane stoves to cook jambalaya for distribution.
Susan St. Pierre said her family is fortunate because, despite the damage to their home, they can live in the home of her mother-in-law, Merlene St. Pierre, a widow of three years.
“She’s almost 80 and I think she’s doing better than us,” Susan St. Pierre said. “We brought her to our house to take care of her (after her husband’s death), and now she’s back home and very happy. We are very fortunate.”