A Louisiana man presumed dead after an alligator attacked him in Hurricane Ida floodwaters this week had survived the devastating wrath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, authorities said.
The 71-year-old man, whose identity has not been released, was walking in floodwaters at about noon on Monday when a large gator attacked him outside his home in Slidell, a city on Lake Pontchartrain across from New Orleans, his wife told authorities, according to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The man’s spouse told deputies a commotion prompted her to go outside when she witnessed the attack and rushed to help her husband. A statement from the sheriff’s office on Tuesday said the couple had experienced hardships before, including surviving two of the region’s most violent hurricanes.
“They are Katrina survivors,” Lance Vitter, a spokesman with the sheriff’s office, said Tuesday. The couple had moved to the area after Katrina and “survived Ida then this,” Vitter said.
Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday with howling 150 mph winds as a Category 4 storm on the same date that Hurricane Katrina struck 16 years earlier.
Katrina pushed the levee system in New Orleans to failure, flooding about 80 percent of the city and leading to 1,800 deaths.
Authorities on Tuesday unsuccessfully searched for the man’s remains, Vitter said. Rescuers had been using boats and high-water vehicles to look for him.
“All accounts at this point are leading to a terrible tragedy that his wife had to witness,” Vitter said. As the search continues, authorities were concerned about rising waterways Wednesday and Thursday.
But if waters were to crest, Vitter said, “Maybe the body will surface.”
The man’s wife told deputies she pulled him out of the floodwaters immediately after the attack and went inside the home to gather first-aid supplies, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
Slidell fire spokesperson Jason Gaubert told NBC News earlier this week the man had lost an arm.
“When she … realized the severity of his injuries, she immediately got into her pirogue (boat) and went to higher ground, which was approximately a mile away, to get help,” the sheriff’s office said. “When she returned, her husband was no longer lying on the steps.”
St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith has urged people to be cautious walking floodwaters.
“Wildlife has been displaced as well during this storm and alligators and other animals may have moved closer into neighborhoods,” he said.
Wilson Wong and Phil Helsel contributed.