Hurricane Ida has destroyed homes, left millions without power and killed at least two people. But perhaps most ominous, it’s brought danger in the water that’s flooding into communities.
Officials say a man was attacked by an alligator in some of those flooded Louisiana waters Monday. The man’s wife witnessed the attack that happened near the city of Slidell, which is just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, Jason Gaubert, a spokesman for the St. Tammany Fire District No. 1, told USA TODAY.
Gaubert said the attack took the man’s arm off and his wife went to call for help. When she returned, he had disappeared in the flood waters. The man’s body hasn’t been recovered and officials were investigating.
The St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office said the man’s wife heard a commotion outside and saw the alligator attacking her 71-year-old husband, according to NBC affiliate WDSU. She helped pull him on to some steps and out of the flood waters. But after going to grab some medical supplies and call for help, he was no longer there.
The daunting nature of alligator attacks in flooded communities after the storm is something officials discussed earlier in the day.
Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng noted some swamplands had flooded and dangers were real for first responders and those living in the area.
“This is an area that has a lot of swampland, alligators, very dangerous conditions,” she said Monday on CNN, noting first responders had to wait for daylight to survey the area and rescue anyone needing help.
She added some areas saw flooding that was “beyond chest high. It’s up to the top of the roof.”
Despite the South being home to an estimated 5 million alligators, attacks by the reptiles during or after hurricanes are rare.
And researchers at the University of Florida told the Florida Times-Union, part of the USA TODAY Network, in 2019 that alligators typically hunker down in their natural habitat if a storm is approaching. The reptiles have sensors that allow them to detect changes in pressure before a storm hits.
“They are much smarter than people,” Joe Wasilewski, a UF conservation biologist who has worked with crocodiles and alligators for over 40 years, said in the Times-Union story. “They instantly seek shelter. They have burrows or caves they call home, usually under a mud or canal, and believe me, the first thing they are going to do is go into those burrows and caves.”
But researchers say alligators do pose a danger after a storm, especially in areas near bodies of water. They can venture through flood waters into neighborhoods and communities that don’t typically see such reptiles.
“When we have a hurricane, the temperature is fairly high, we get lots and lots of water, and when the water levels rise, alligators tend to move around,” James Perran Ross, wildlife biologist at the University of Florida and expert on alligators, said in 2019.
Alligators have been spotted both during and after big storms in the South over the years.
After Hurricane Sally made landfall last year, a woman recorded a large alligator making its way through her community in Gulf Shores, Alabama, according to CBS News. And before Tropical Storm Eta hit Florida last year, a mammoth-sized gator was spotted making its way across a golf course in Naples, Fla, according to NBC News.
And it’s not just natural encounters. About 250 alligators at a ranch and tour facility escaped their enclosures in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.