'The house fell down, and we're in it': FF's parents rescued from home after Zeta

Firefighter Trey Camardelle got a call from his parents shortly after their house fell from its pilings; the couple was rescued by Bayside firefighters and members of a Mississippi Urban Search and Rescue team

Isabelle Taft
The Sun Herald

HANCOCK COUNTY, Miss. — On Wednesday evening, a Louisiana firefighter named Trey Camardelle got a call from his parents, who were riding out Hurricane Zeta in Bay St. Louis.

"They called me and said, 'The house fell down and we're in it,'" Camardelle recalled on Thursday.

Their Bay St. Louis home had toppled from its 18-foot cinderblock pilings as Zeta brought winds of up to 104 miles per hour to Hancock County.

On Thursday, the couple was in stable condition at a New Orleans hospital. Gov. Tate Reeves chose their house as the backdrop for his press conference on Zeta, turning it into a symbol of the storm's startling, almost surreal power.

"I don't think there is any doubt that there was an expectation that this particular storm, as it made landfall, that it would weaken in strength," he said. "That is a model that occurs just about every single time that hurricanes are hitting landfall in the Gulf, and unfortunately, last night... it really didn't lose strength."

As the Coast began to tally its damages, Camardelle surveyed his parents' home, lying at a slant on the now-horizontal pilings. An orange motorcycle was half-buried underneath the house. Pieces of insulation fluttered in the breeze. The pilings jutted out from underneath the base of the home like the legs of the Wicked Witch of the East. Camardelle took photos of the damage.

"This is someone's life," he said. "This is not a shed. This is someone's entire life, just gone."

Rescue mission

When his parents called, he thought about trying to drive to them, but it would have taken at least an hour.

Instead, Bayside Fire Chief Tony Johnston was dispatched on a rescue mission like nothing he had ever done before.

"You never get a call that a house has fallen off the stilts," Johnston said.

He headed out in a high-water vehicle, because at 7:30 p.m. wind speeds were too high for an ambulance to travel. Working with members of a Mississippi USAR ( Urban Search and Rescue) team that had been sent to Hancock County to help with storm response, Johnston was able to get the couple from the house to a local hospital. From there, they were transported to a hospital in New Orleans.

It wasn't the outcome Johnston had feared when he headed out into the storm around 7:30 p.m., when the winds were too strong for an ambulance to travel.

"I expected the worst," he said. "You don't know what happened in that house, if they're okay."

Trust in construction

Camardelle said his parents had lived in the house for about five years. They'd moved to Bay St. Louis from New Orleans because they liked "the country living."

It had sometimes swayed in the wind, but that didn't worry anyone.

"You have this mindset, it was built to do this," he said. "I'm putting my trust into the person that built this."

What happened during Zeta destroyed that trust.

Typically, supporting beams made of concrete, like cinderblock pilings, are reinforced with long rods of steel rebar. Concrete is relatively weak in the face of external pressures like high-speed winds.

Camardelle pointed out that many of the cinderblocks appeared to be held together only with mortar.

"To me it seems like gravity was the only thing holding this thing down," he said.

When Reeves arrived, the two men spoke next to the house. The governor asked for his perspective on what had happened, and asked after his parents. Camardelle emphasized that he thinks something had gone wrong in the construction and possibly the permitting process as well.

"It already happened to someone," he told Reeves. "I don't want it to happen to someone else."

Then Reeves turned to address a line of media cameras and the state of Mississippi. Behind him, Camardelle kept examining pieces of the jumbled pile that was his parents' home.


(c)2020 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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