Arabi neighborhood looks back one year after EF3 tornado

Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 11:05 PM CDT
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ST. BERNARD PARISH (WVUE) - Looking at the video from the FOX 8 drone, we could see how much Arabi has changed since an EF3-rated tornado tore through the community a year ago.

Vacant lots still pepper the neighborhood but when we compared it to last year, there were no more torn-up homes, scattered roofs, or piles of debris.

“It was total destruction for anything it made contact with,” St. Bernard Parish councilman Gillis McCloskey said. “Everything that thing touched, it absolutely devastated.”

McCloskey spoke to us at the corner of Friscoville and St. Claude, where a church and a number of homes used to stand.

The parish estimates 50 structures were destroyed, 90 received major damage, 160 had minor damage and a total of 300 structures were impacted by the tornado.

25-year-old Conner Lambert died when the storm leveled his home and 22-year-old Maria Celeste Burke died in the hospital a week after the tornado after suffering injuries when her house was pushed into the street.

“I had heard about tornado on the news and watched them on TV but I had never seen the destruction path that up close and personal,” McCloskey said. “It defied physics.”

It’s one of several scars the community has, after the many hardships its faced.

“Tropical events, two tornadoes and COVID, that’s what Arabi has been through in the last 8 years. It’s been crazy,” McCloskey said.

The mix of homes constructed after the storm and those still under repair are giving people hope that the St. Bernard Parish people knew before the tornado was coming back strong.

“To say that we have come as far as we have in a year from an event that was so devastating, I think is just remarkable,” McCloskey said.

McCloskey says aid packages have helped families displaced by the tornado come back and rebuild.

And for business owner Lynda Catalanotto, the anniversary marks how much progress has been made since the storm tore up the Old Arabi Marketplace.

“Everything was upside down. Furniture was turned over, but the significant loss was the east wing of our building. 1600 (square) feet was taken down to the ground,” Catalanotto said.

She says her store lost $300,000 dollars of merchandise and did not re-open until December.

She says knowing your insurance policy is necessary if any lesson could be learned from the disaster.

“I learned very quickly that I was underinsured. So everybody should heed that warning and check what you’re insured on,” she said. “Nobody thinks you’re going to be hit with such a significant disaster. You are not prepared to have so much structure just gone.”

Now that her store is running again, Catalanotto has felt a need to serve her clients and community, especially after losing her husband weeks before the tornado and her mother and best friend months after.

“I work every day, seven days a week and love everything about the store. I love our customers. I love everything about the store,” she said.

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