First Responders

By Dex Duet, Features editor

Under Hurricane Ida’s mandatory evacuations, most families in the Bayou Region packed up and left. But law enforcement officers prepared and then stood ready to face the brunt of the storm and the aftermath.

“We’re in the middle of the storm working and they [other officers] get reports back that their home is gone,” says Lieutenant Travis Theriot of the Houma Police Department. “And they have nothing and they’re looking at you and telling you they only have the clothes on their back and the bag that’s packed in their unit. They show you pictures and everything is scattered all over the yard and all you can do is console them and then you look at them and they just put on their game face and go back to work.”

“They have nothing . . . they only have the clothes on their back and the bag that’s packed in their unit . . . Then you look at them and they just put on their game face and go back to work.”

– Lt. Travis Theriot
Houma Police Department

During the storm, Theriot responded to the local powerplant that was being blown away. Debris fell into the building, hitting the employees inside. Theriot and his crew rushed over in a large vehicle to save the employees that were trapped in the quickly dismantling building. In three separate trips, the team pulled 17 men out of the powerplant and brought them to safety at the Houma Civic Center.

“I was crouched down watching the metal fly off the building right over my head,” Theriot says.

Even everyday people joined the efforts. Chad Fitzmaurice, a resident of Porter, Indiana, was visiting South Louisiana for the alligator hunting season. But his alligator trip turned into a multi-week effort to help others.

“We were knocking on doors where people were literally living in one room of their house because the rest of their house was gone,” he says. “They had tarps up just trying to protect that one room so they can live in it because they had nowhere to go. There was nothing.”

Help was needed during the storm, but after the storm passed first responders jobs were far from over. Some residents were still trapped in flooded houses. People needed food, water, medical assistance and shelter. Those who evacuated needed clear roads to return home.

Tony Boudreaux, the Thibodaux Volunteer Fire Department’s fire chief, says their concern was to ensure safe and clear roads for first responders and those trying to begin the restoration of their hometowns.

“We had to let the storm pass through,” Boudreaux says. “The next thing was to coordinate an effort to get the roads cleared so if we do have an emergency, our emergency services can get where they need to get.”

In addition to clearing roads, the Thibodaux Volunteer Fire Department helped individuals assess and clean up their homes, made sure power lines were not a danger to passing cars and provided the community with much-needed essentials.

And while the storm passes through in a couple of days, the aftermath, cleanup and recovery are long.

“After a storm like Ida comes through, things typically move slowly for the most hardest hit people,” he says. “That is difficult to see.”

While dealing with Ida was difficult, Boudreaux says there was still good.

“While you’re out assisting the community, you see people helping each other,” he says. “Neighbors helping neighbors — those are the things that become positive. The storm is the negative, but everyone coming together to help each other is the positive part of all of this.”