Down but not out: Resilient New Orleans residents vow to rebuild after deadly tornado

“There are some houses that are completely gone, completely destroyed, and business places that have been destroyed. Automobiles destroyed."

ARABI, La. -- Life changed for Michele Gautreaux in less than a minute.

A massive wedge tornado struck under cover of darkness Tuesday evening as it crossed the Mississippi River in New Orleans, leaving people in its path reacting in horror when they realized this was real.


"Just like that, it was over with. The house rumbled and shook, and it was gone," Gautreaux said.

St. Bernard Parish Vice President Louis Pomes is in charge of the cleanup in Arabi, where at least 50% of the community was damaged. 

"There are some houses that are completely gone, completely destroyed, and business places that have been destroyed. Automobiles destroyed," Pomes said. "A lot of these people, just seven months ago, put new roofs on our houses, and some of them just bought new houses in this area."

Located about five miles southeast on the Mississippi River from New Orleans, the town of Arabi was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Some spots were 10 to 20 feet underwater when the levees broke. 

The community was also still recovering from Hurricane Ida, a Category 4 storm that rolled through just west of Arabi seven months ago.


Residents have recovered as well as they could, and now this. 

"I looked out the side window and saw the big funnel in the sky. It was scary. I panicked and screamed to get in, and I couldn’t find my dog to get in the bathroom. There was no train sound," Gautreaux said.

She is used to tropical systems, like hurricanes, but this was her first tornado. While she built her home after Katrina, her neighbors lost everything.

"They were an inspiration to me, because I know if they could make it through that … this is nothing compared to Katrina," Gautreaux said.

As the sun began to rise Wednesday, neighbors awoke to the reality that their homes and businesses once destroyed are now entirely uprooted.

"Pretty devastating. And it’s amazing. Whatever, it’s just stuff, just stuff we could replace," said Corky Potts as he became overwhelmed while examining his property in Arabi.

Many were feeling the same emotions as Potts as they were lost for words but found the strength to come out and begin the rebuilding process again.

Patricia Noote has lived in Arabi for 22 years and has never seen anything like this.

"We had one come through one time, but it wasn’t as bad as this," Noote said. "It sounded like a freight train when it hit. And that’s when everything went."

But what Noote witnessed was something she said was worse than living through a hurricane. 

"Oh, this is worse. This was really bad," she said.

Severe thunderstorms produced several swaths of damage about 7:30 p.m. Central in Southeast Louisiana. 

Two tornadoes, one in New Orleans East and another in Lacombe, were confirmed by Doppler radar and number videos. Reports indicate the most significant and concentrated damage occurred in Arabi. 

Bobcats and Earth movers were busy less than 12 hours after the storm ripping up the debris to try and get it out of the street to get residents and commerce moving again.

Nathan Wall has been to Kentucky to deliver generators, Poland to help Ukrainian refugees, and now in New Orleans to distribute 180 generators for St. Bernard Parish. 

"God has blessed us to bless others, and he’s taught us to be his feet and hands here on Earth and just love people," Wall said.


So far, there has been one confirmed fatality and multiple injuries reported, but search and rescue efforts are still on the ground.

NWS meteorologists currently surveying storm damage near Arabi said they have found at least EF-3 damage. There has only been one other EF-3 tornado on record in Orleans Parish.