Caskets containing human remains are still scattered around a Louisiana town, nearly four weeks after being washed out of their burial vaults by floods caused by Hurricane Ida.
Pastor Haywood Johnson, of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Ironton, 25 miles southeast of New Orleans, told CNN how caskets have still not been returned to their burial plots as the community desperately tries to rebuild.
Burial plots in the area around New Orleans are typically very shallow because the ground water level is so high, and coffins are often laid to rest in above-ground vaults and tombs.
But as flood waters from Hurricane Ida swept through the region at the end of August, many caskets were washed out of the vaults, and are still scattered around town.
Johnson pointed out a pair of caskets, belonging to a father and daughter, which had ended up beside each other in someone’s front yard.
Another casket could be seen upside down against a nearby levee, while a funeral vault weighing thousands of pounds was washed nearly three thousand feet before ending up right in front of the church.
Johnson said he is still looking for the caskets of his own mother, uncle and sister.
Caskets filled with human remains are still scattered around a Louisiana town weeks after Hurricane Ida ripped through the region as it made it’s way inland
A casket could be seen upside down against a nearby levee
The search for the caskets, which are bound in above-ground tombs and made of cement and other heavy materials, has been further complicated by mud, high grass and snakes
Haywood Johnson, the town’s church pastor, says caskets he buried have been carried away from cemetery grounds and spread throughout the community
‘It caused people to be in disarray,’ Johnson told CNN.
‘They’re shocked by the magnitude of the destruction, but they’re even more so overwhelmed by their loved ones floating and ending up landing in the streets and people’s yards and on the side of the levee and out in the field, and it’s just, just overwhelming.’
‘One of the things that bothered me is that I was the one that buried most of those people, most of the deceased, and it was like pulling the scab off of a wound,’ Johnson added.
The search for the missing caskets has been further complicated by mud, high grass and snakes, Johnson told CNN.
It is estimated that 30 to 50 caskets were displaced during the flooding, according to Ryan Seidemann, chairman of Louisiana’s Cemetery Response Taskforce.
After Hurricane Katrina displaced nearly a thousand caskets back in 2005, Louisiana now requires all of them to have some form of identification, like a plaque, so they can be returned if they are washed away, according to NPR.
Many of the caskets are weighed down with cement and other heavy materials, but that does not always help in the raging floods caused by a hurricane.
FEMA offers families up to $8,000 to help properly rebury their loved ones.
Mud and debris surround damaged homes in Ironton, Louisiana, on September 19
Saint Paul Missionary Baptist Pastor Haywood Johnson – pictured at his flood-damaged church – said he is still looking for the caskets of his own mother, uncle and sister
A funeral vault weighing thousands of pounds (pictured) moved nearly three thousand feet away before ending up right in front of the church
The predominately-black community of Ironton has a population of 175 and sits on the west bank of the Mississippi River in lower Plaquemines Parish.
Residents have called upon the federal government to assist the beleaguered area with the rebuilding process after Ida’s destructive path, WDSU reports.
‘We just want to know what is happening. When will these projects get started? So residents can try to come in and salvage some of their property,’ Major Tracy Riley said.
While the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans Division said the town’s levees worked as they were designed to, the high elevation of the land surrounding Ironton made for the perfect conditions for flooding.
‘With the Plaquemines area, the entire West Bank we’re building what we call the New Orleans to Venice project,’ said Ricky Boyett, spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Venice project has been going on for years, however the contract for the New Orleans to Venice levee project is currently out for bid.
Boyett told Fox 8 Live that it should bring the levee systems in lower Plaquemines up to federal standards.
Ironton resident Kornell Davis (pictured) walks through the Ironton cemetery, still covered in nearly a foot a marsh mud Sunday, Sept. 19
On Tuesday, Members of the Louisiana Cemetery Response Task Force were in Ironton to survey the devastation and determine what equipment and tools will be needed to recover the missing caskets.
A staging area was also being created for bodies to be properly identified before they are returned to their final resting places.
‘It’s not something you can do without heavy equipment,’ said task force chairman Ryan Seidemann, while adding that some of the caskets and their vaults weighed tons.
‘When I was out in this community cemetery, I was up to my knees in muck, so finding the purchase for a crane or some other kind of [machinery] to get a hold and be able to lift these these heavy weights is going to be a challenge,’ he said.