Barbara Garcia has lived near Albany, La., for almost 40 years, and she’s never experienced a storm like Hurricane Ida. The storm cut a deadly swath through the Bayou State after making landfall Aug. 29, exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina.
“With Katrina, it was a walk in the park” by comparison, Barbara said — at least in Albany, 40 miles east of Baton Rouge. With winds exceeding 100 mph for nine hours, Ida toppled hundreds of trees in the area, including one that fell on the home where Barbara lives with her husband, Albert. Between the fallen trees and flooded roads, the couple was trapped for two and a half days.
“This one was terrifying,” Barbara added. “I told Albert, when another comes, we’re leaving because it was really hard, and I was really scared.”
Nearly two weeks after the storm, the Garcias were still picking up debris. Longing for dinner after a grueling day of clean-up, they heard about the Knights of Columbus distributing food nearby at St. Margaret, Queen of A Light in the Darkest Hour Scotland Catholic Church. The meal was a blessing.
“They’re angels,” Albert said. “They have gone above and beyond.”
Ida became the second-most destructive storm to hit Louisiana, after Katrina, and one of the most destructive storms in U.S. history, causing more than 80 deaths and an estimated $95 billion in damage. It left more than 1 million people without power, some for weeks. Knights of Columbus across the Gulf Coast and beyond responded with a spirit of resilience and charity — serving thousands of hot meals, clearing debris and distributing necessities such as water, food, cleaning products and tarps for damaged roofs. In addition to financial support and deliveries of supplies from Knights around the country, local councils contributed an estimated 300,000 volunteer hours in the weeks following the storm.
“We have areas where the buildings are literally ripped up like tin cans,” said Louisiana State Deputy George Martin. “It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time, it’s awesome to see the unity, fraternity and charity the Knights of Columbus offers to our members and our communities.”
Rudy Wolf, grand knight of St. Jean Vianney Council 9247 in Baton Rouge, has lived through several major hurricanes, including Andrew in 1992 and Katrina in 2005. But Ida’s severe winds were particularly devastating, he said, especially east of Baton Rouge.
“You can see it on the interstate driving from Baton Rouge to Albany,” Wolf said. “The further you go east, the worse it gets.”
Wolf contacted Father Jamin David, the pastor of St. Margaret’s in Albany, to ask how and when Council 9247 could help. The outreach was a welcome relief to Father David.
“Disasters bring out the worst in people sometimes, but they bring out the best in people too,” said Father David, who serves Louisiana state chaplain. “You can see that in all the volunteer hours, the service and the contributions that are being funneled into communities affected by Ida.”
On Sept. 11, Knights from Council 9247 prepared and served more than 600 meals in St. Margaret’s parking lot. They also brought water, diapers and cleaning materials for the parish’s supply pantry, as well as $3,000 in gift cards donated by council members.
Father David was grateful for the Knights’ presence and their efforts to bring the community back to a sense of normalcy, one hot meal at a time.
“This is what the Knights of Columbus are really all about,” Father David said. “By their presence and their work, the Knights are helping people to get back on their feet.”
As Hurricane Ida approached southeastern Louisiana, Father Gregg Fratt decided he wasn’t going anywhere. The pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Cut Off— 35 miles north of Ida’s landfall at Port Fourchon — wanted to be there for parishioners who couldn’t evacuate. Fortunately, the church was not severely damaged, but most of the small town did not escape lightly. Father Fratt, a member of Morgan City (La.) Council 1373, compared the level of destruction to a war zone. Some homes near the church were flooded up to four feet; many lost their roofs. The area was without power and water for several weeks.
Father Fratt made Sacred Heart a distribution center for Cut Off residents. However, the need was mounting; he didn’t have enough supplies and water. That’s when he received a call from a friend from seminary, Father Michael Austin, who now serves as a pastor and K of C chaplain 125 miles east at Holy Family Parish in Pass Christian, Miss.
“They’ve had their share of hurricanes, so he knew exactly what we were dealing with,” Father Fratt explained. “And they know what it feels like for people from the outside to come in and help them.”
Father Austin tapped Msgr. Leech Council 4472 to spearhead the parish’s fundraising and collection efforts. In one weekend, the Knights raised $20,000 and collected more than 30,000 pounds of water and cleaning supplies. They loaded the donations into a tractor trailer donated by council member Teddy Fields, who runs a trucking company, and drove them to Cut Off on Sept. 11.
“One of the wonderful things about this council is that when anybody calls for assistance, the Knights step up and say, ‘We’re here,’” said Mississippi State Deputy Ray Gamez, who is a member of Council 4472. “I think this is what Father McGivney asks of us — taking care of our parish and our community.”
“It just meant the world” to receive the council’s help, Father Fratt said. “It was like a light in the dark, and it was really dark.”
In Destrehan, a suburb of New Orleans, Muriel Licciardi knew she had to evacuate from her home before the hurricane hit, in case she needed medical attention for her pneumonia. She fled to Arkansas and stayed there a month. When she returned in late September, she was overwhelmed by the damage in her neighborhood.
“It was very hard to see it, and not be able to help,” said Licciardi, who is in her 60s. “I’m sad and devastated for others that have lost more than me.”
When she told her nephew, Charles Melancon, about her and her neighbors’ situations, he knew what to do. The grand knight of St. Christopher Council 4508 in nearby Metairie, Melancon put the word out to Knights in the area, asking for volunteers for a clean-up day Oct. 2. More than 40 people — including Knights and their family members, and some local high school students — came to cut fallen trees, remove debris and fix roofs.
Among them was Supreme Director Rennan Duffour, a past state deputy. “It may take years to get back to a place where we were before the disaster happened,” Duffour said. “We have to keep providing support as needed.”
The group spent the day cleaning up three homes in Destrehan, including Licciardi’s, and serving nearly 800 meals at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church.
“What Knights do after a major disaster, especially here in Louisiana — we mobilize,” Melancon said. “We need to show people love so they know that they’re not forgotten.”
For Licciardi, the Knights’ helping hands were a sign of hope.
“I get emotional when I think about it,” she said. “When we came home and saw what we were facing and what all our neighbors had gone through — I am just so touched by the outpouring of help.”
ANDREW FOWLER is a content producer for the Knights of Columbus Communications Department.
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