LAFAYETTE, Louisiana—Dennis Prejean has spent most of his life on Grand Isle, and ridden out numerous storms there. So it was no surprise when he turned down his daughter’s offer to evacuate the island ahead of Hurricane Ida.
“I last talked to my dad Saturday and told him he could come to my house in Greensburg but he insisted on riding it out on Grand Isle,” Nicole Borja, 33, told The Daily Beast.
Now Nicole and her older sister, Brandi Borja, 39, are trying to find out what happened to Nicole’s father and their brother, Dennis Borja, who both stayed behind on the island—which was rocked as hard as anywhere else by the savage storm.
The elder Prejean, 66, is a construction worker, operating his own business with his son—the other Dennis—and his brother-in-law. He lived in a house on Landry Lane, near the post office and right across the street from the back of the island cemetery, according to Nicole.
Try as they may, they haven’t been able to get any information on their family members. The island has been largely incommunicado since Sunday afternoon, when Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng said she last heard from the police department, though a group did get rescued on a helicopter from the area on Monday, as the Advocate reported.
The estimate of the number of people who stayed behind on Grand Isle has varied from a low of around 20 to about 40. Many, according to reports in social media groups, ended up gathering at the island’s municipal complex, a solid, elevated concrete structure that was built in the year after Hurricane Katrina, and with lessons from that storm incorporated into its engineering.
So far, the only official reports of the damage have come from U.S. Coast Guard overflights of the island. Video from those flights is now being pored over online by residents and property owners trying to see how their portions of the island fared.
The sisters took to asking around in the Grand Isle Connected Facebook group in hopes of hearing from someone who knew Nicole’s father, their brother, or else who could give them information on the state of the home, but with no luck.
“Everyone seemed to want to know about their property or their camp,” Nicole said. “They didn’t seem to want to find out about the people.”
They were able to use a screen shot from one of the videos, however, to identify the roofline of Dennis Prejean’s house above the trees.
“It’s still there and doesn’t look too bad,” Nicole said.
For now, the access to the island is cut off. Lafourche Parish had a curfew in effect, and although the island is in Jefferson Parish, the only access road goes through Lafourche.
Nicole Borja recalled that she managed to talk her father into leaving the island once in advance of a storm.
That was in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on the coast 16 years ago.
“I had to make him leave for Katrina,” she said. “I was living with him then and had to beg and cry to get him to leave.”
This time around, she was not able to convince him to come inland. Now, she fears that, even if he is healthy, Ida may have done irreparable damage to the island home.
“I’m just still worried about them,” she said. “I know he’s lost everything. And with no money to rebuild. Even if he’s ok, I know his life is ruined.”