Melissa Perrier knew her home had been ruined before ever stepping foot back into Norco.
Perrier, her husband Craig and their 7-month-old daughter Cami were evacuated in Lake Charles for Hurricane Ida – they intended to stay home, but made the decision to leave the morning of the storm once it was established Ida had reached Category 4 strength – and the next day, she saw photos posted to Facebook by friends and neighbors, her home among those featured.
“I’m seeing my house underwater with a tree through the roof,” said Perrier. “I had friends texting me about my house and I hadn’t even seen it. That was really hard.”
The Perriers had just redone the home completely in preparation for the arrival of Cami, but like many others post-Ida, must start over. Their home was actually one of three properties in the area that incurred damage from Ida, though one of those was manageable enough to ultimately move into, which the family did last week after living for five weeks with Perrier’s grandparents.
“There’s nothing left,” Perrier said. “We had roof damage, and when the outer bands of Hurricane Nicholas came though, the roof caved in. There was already moisture inside the whole house from the little holes that were in the roof … so everything’s gutted.”
Craig said everything had kind of been a blur until last week, when the reality started to sink in.
“We went to the house and that was the first time I kind of got choked up … for a while you’re trying to save what you can, and it’s all kind of a blur, but then you realize, ‘Man, we worked so hard to make this house our home, and it’s gone now,” he said.
The hardest part, perhaps, was the loss of all of Cami’s things.
“For both of us, seeing your 7-month-old daughter and all of that stuff she loved playing with, that brought her such joy, discarded on the side of the road,” Melissa said. “There was a bouncy chair she loved, and when she’d bounce, it would play music. When we put it outside, it started playing the music. It was kind of a sad little moment.”
The silver lining of it all, both said, was the community rallying to help – even if that was hard to accept at first, as the two have long been used to helping others.
For 10 years, Melissa has worked as a campaign and marketing manager for United Way of St. Charles, telling the stories of those who have been knocked down by life’s circumstance and how United Way has been able to help, thus helping to garner donations to allow for that assistance to be possible. Craig, meanwhile, has been a teacher and athletics coach at Destrehan High School for over a decade. He’s guided his carpentry class to become a positive force in the community – they form The Handyman Crew, which constructs wheelchair accessible ramps for disabled residents in the community.
“The two of us have always been helpers. I know it’s why he became a coach and a teacher … usually, if something like this were to happen, we’d jump right into action to help,” Melissa said. “But this was a situation where we needed help. And people are so helpful, and we’re so appreciative, but it’s also very humbling at the same time.
“When you’re surrounded by so much love, and people giving at every turn, it’s hard to feel down for too long. And now I have my own story to tell and say, ‘Here’s how my community stepped up for me. Here’s how United Way helped me.’ I don’t have to tell another story in this instance, because I have my own.”
The aforementioned Handyman Crew ramps, actually, have provided some moments of positivity for the couple – it turns out they’re pretty darned sturdy.
“Every one of those ramps stayed up through the storm,” Melissa said. “We’d actually go drive around and look for them.”
Craig said that while the situation is a difficult one, it’s highlighted “humanity at its best.”
“Life is so fast, and then people slowed down to help each other out,” he said. “It was tough to ask for help because everyone is so impacted by it. But people always offered. Some kids I’ve coached came over … some friends of the family, ‘Hey, I’m going to send over my 20-year-old son to help move furniture.’”
That community is one of the chief reasons why leaving the parish is not something they’re even entertaining.
“Whether we rebuild in Norco, specifically … that’s the question. But we’ll never leave St. Charles Parish. It’s not even part of the conversation,” Melissa said. “Being part of a community like this, with such amazing, caring people, it’s something very special.”