LA - 'I won't leave.' Residents of hard-hit Louisiana town undeterred by another deadly hurricane
Ida touched down on August 29 as a Category 4 hurricane near Port Fourchon, Louisiana, south of New Orleans, with winds of 150 miles an hour.
LaPlace, Louisiana (CNN)Cheryl Rogers Smith's favorite chair, where she always looked out over her large brood, sat in front of a huge pile of water-logged belongings discarded on a grassy curbside in the New Orleans suburb of LaPlace.
Relatives hauled the plush white-and-black chair, dressers and other family heirlooms from Smith's flood-damaged house in the River Forest neighborhood under a searing sun days after Hurricane Ida slammed into the Gulf Coast last Sunday.
Smith, 69, the beloved family matriarch affectionately known as "Mamaw," died in the hours after the Category 4 hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, relatives said.
Smith, who suffered from diabetes and other health issues, used a rolling walker to get around. She became unresponsive and later stopped breathing after wading through waist-deep flood waters to the two-story home of her neighbor next door, according to family members.
"I'll miss times with her and gathering here at this house," said Smith's eldest daughter, Cassie Falgoust, 51, choking back tears.
"But I have my daddy and my sister," she added, placing her hand on Mamaw's chair. "I have my brother, my nieces, my nephews, my great nieces, my kids, my grand babies, my husband, my in-laws."
In the face of unimaginable pain and loss, Smith's extended family, like so many other hurricane-hardened residents here, vow to stay in Louisiana. A sense of place coupled with the bonds of family, friendship and community, they said, are stronger than the killer storms that upend their lives.
"Every place has something," Falgoust said. "You're not going to be tragedy, disaster free. You're going to have earthquakes and wildfires. And tornado season. It's what it is. You just have to pick where you love, where you feel loved and where you feel like family. I'd rather be here and eat really, really good food and be a little chunky and cute than somewhere else."
Michelle Smith, 48, looked at Falgoust, her sister, as they cleaned their parents' home: "I won't leave because she's here."
"And I won't leave because all my kids are here," said Falgoust, who has four grown children. "She's here. It's home. It always will be."