A sense of normalcy is returning to St. John the Baptist Parish after a tornado struck the west side of LaPlace last week and damaged more than 500 buildings but remarkably left no one seriously injured.
The area hit last week was the same area that flooded in 2012 during Hurricane Isaac.
Schools in the parish reopened on Feb. 29 while businesses and homeowners began repairs.
The LaPlace tornado was one of 13 that struck in Louisiana on Feb. 23. Two men were killed when a tornado touched down at a RV park in nearby St. James Parish. Thirty others were injured there, officials said.
“We have some resilient people in St. John Parish and they will do what it takes to return to a normal life,” said Travis Perrilloux, assistant director of the St. John Parish Office of Emergency Preparedness.
Perrilloux said 525 structures were damaged and 100 are considered uninhabitable in five subdivisions. St. John received help from surrounding parishes that have supplied personnel and equipment to remove much of the debris, he said.
Perrilloux said it will take several months for some homes to be repaired and even longer for others. Homes that can’t be repaired will be torn down, he said.
Jennifer Boquet, a spokeswoman for the school system, said there was no noticeable drop in attendance on the first day back to school. “It appears the extra days off gave families time to regroup and return to the school routine,” she said.
The school district will provide supplies and uniforms to students who lost their possessions in the tornado, Boquet said.
The Home Depot store in LaPlace is ground zero for those needing repair supplies.
First it was lumber, plywood and tarps to help cover homes in the days after the tornado, store manager James Barger said.
“We are now seeing a run on shingles and insulation as homeowners begin to repair their roofs,” Barger said.
Barger says Home Depot sent a truck to different subdivisions to hand out water, tarps, trash bags and racks to help people clean up their property.
He says electricians are also coming in to buy meter heads and breaker boxes to replace those damaged by the storm.
Volunteers have flocked in too.
Among them are about 100 volunteers with Hope Reigns, a nonprofit Christian group based in Tupelo, Mississippi. John Fuqua, one of the leaders of the group, said this is his second time in LaPlace. The first time was after Hurricane Isaac.
One of those getting help from Hope Reigns is Kristine Darwin.
“The whole family was home when the tornado struck. We could feel the pressure change and part of the roof was torn off and the rain starting pouring in,” Darwin said.
Darwin, whose husband works for St. John Parish, was going to attempt the repairs, but she said after speaking to a representative with Hope Reign, a crew of volunteers showed up and repaired what they could on the roof and covered the rest with tarps.
“They were a godsend,” Darwin said.
Photo at top: A tornado ripped through the Sugar Hill RV Park in the town of Convent, La. (David Grunfeld/NOLA.com The Times-Picayune via AP)