When you first see the English Turn Cemetery in Braithwaite, it takes your breath away. Hurricane Isaac's storm surge slammed through the cemetery, tossing cement tombs across the highway and onto the levee, breaking some open. Elaine Vignes and her brother James Washington were stunned on their first visit.
"It hurts, it does. Ever since it happened, really, because this is who made me who I am, this is my family,” said Elaine Vignes, a family member
"You're shocked? Absolutely, I just had no idea that graves could be moved so easily, although they weigh so much,” said James Washington.
The cemetery is filled with their relatives, parents, children, grandparents aunts, uncles. But Elaine was horrified when she saw her grandmother's tomb broken open by the force of the storm surge.
"She was born in 1902, and her casket is just hanging out, so I can't really look at it,” said Vignes.
Elaine took pictures of English Turn Cemetery in August, as she documented her family's history tracing back to the Canary Islands for a master's degree project, and found military grave markers from the Civil War to Vietnam. But she worried Isaac stole her family's history by smashing the cemetery, and asked me will it be repaired?
"I don't want them to just disappear as a vapor. They were here, and they grew and developed this parish,” said Vignes.
"And we want to be buried by our loved ones, and without it, it wouldn't be possible,” said Washington.
This is one of four Plaquemines Parish cemeteries damaged by the Hurricane Isaac storm surge. The head of the Plaquemines Emergency operations Center said this was one of the most seriously damaged. But already parish officials are working with the state health department, and they have some forensic experts here, and are beginning the process of restoring the cemetery.
"We're working very, very hard to give these people a name, to be able to put them back where they belong, and it is hard, it is exacting,” said Mary Manhein, an LSU forensic anthropologist.
"It makes me feel good because I see they're steadily working away over there,” said Vignes.
The experts say they face weeks of work potentially, but they say Elaine's pictures will be a big help.