Zeta's toll on a Louisiana island: 'Like a bomb was dropped'

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A camping trailer by a neighboring camp has been damaged by Hurricane Zeta in Grand Isle, La., Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Gov. John Bel Edwards says the damage from Zeta was catastrophic in Grand Isle, a barrier island community south of New Orleans that was one of the hardest-hit areas. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

NEW ORLEANS – Mark Andollina remembers stinging rain and a howling wind that peeled the roof off part of his Cajun Tide Beach Resort on Grand Isle, the Louisiana barrier island town where residents were among the first to feel the ferocity of Hurricane Zeta.

Andollina was salvaging what he could Friday morning, picking up pieces of reusable scrap wood, while mulling what it will take to repair and reopen. He said residents there believe Zeta spawned at least one tornado. “I guess that's what did it,” he said. “Because we got the most damage on the island right here, basically in the middle of the island.”

“The middle of the island looks like a bomb was dropped,” said Dodie Vegas, who with her husband owns Bridge Side Marina on the west side of the island.

Part-time town resident Jimmy Ellis, a New Orleans area physician, said his raised camp survived, but he spent Friday morning retrieving fishing equipment and pieces of an LSU mural that washed away when water swept beneath it.

Zeta came ashore on the southeast Louisiana coast, near Cocodrie, on Wednesday evening with 110 mph (177 kph) winds, just shy of Category 3 strength. It hit hard on Grand Isle, a popular waterside getaway and recreational fishing destination. With a population of about 1,500, the seaside landscape is dominated by rustic fishing camps and vacation homes on pilings high above the flood-prone ground.

Zeta lifted away roofs, snapped telephone polls and washed away parts of a levee designed to protect the narrow island from storm surge.

Andollina rode it out, despite an evacuation having been ordered a day before, when the storm was expected to be a relatively weak, Category 1 hurricane. Zeta's speed and intensity caught many on the coast off guard.

“That thing just souped up and kicked all of our butts, especially the levee,” said Lan Tivet, a member of the Grand Isle town council. She had been away from the island on family business as the storm approached and was getting reports from town officials as she made her way back Friday.