A 71-year-old Louisiana man is presumed dead after an alligator lurking in Hurricane Ida’s floodwaters attacked him on Monday.
Hurricane Ida has been an unthinkable climate horror, killing at least five people, leaving the entire city of New Orleans without power, destroying homes, and flooding communities. But those picking up the pieces have also had to contend with wildlife, including some of the most fearsome creatures of the bayous.
The man’s wife recounted the chilling tale to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office: She said her husband was outside working in the couple’s shed when she heard a loud sound while inside their house. She ran out to find a large alligator attacking him and helped repel the reptile and bring her husband to safety. She went back inside to get medical supplies, but realized the severity of his resulting wounds—dreadfully, the alligator bit off one of the man’s arms—required more serious help. So the woman boated a mile (1.6 kilometers) away to look for assistance, but when she returned, her husband was nowhere to be found.
Law enforcement is still investigating the attack and searching for the man. On Monday, they spent six hours wading through knee-deep floodwaters with boats and high-water vehicles. But so far, “all attempts have been futile,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
The couple lived in the Avery Estates in Slidell, located northeast of New Orleans near the brackish waters of the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge and other swamps around the area are known homes for alligators. The shed where the man was attacked stood underneath the house, which is raised and surrounded by marsh.
“It was not uncommon for people to see alligators seven feet or longer,’’ Captain Lance Vitter of the sheriff’s office told the New York Times.
Local news station WWL-TV also spoke with the couple’s neighbors, who confirmed that they have seen numerous large alligators especially because some residents feed them.
The story points to one of the many dangers in the wake of Ida’s rampage. The parish’s fire department found a snake slithering around one of their bays, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has warned residents to watch out in areas where floodwaters may “force wildlife from flooded habitat into adjacent residential and commercial areas.” Being aware of what wildlife is nearby is as much for humans’ safety as it is for animals. The story from Avery Estates is also a tragic reminder of how development has infringed on the natural world and put people and wildlife increasingly in competition—and how conflicts can arise, particularly when other crises hit.