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'Nobody is leaving from this' | St. John business owners vow comeback

“I’m out of an income right now, God knows for how long, but we have to fight through it."

ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, La. — Facing extensive damage in St. John the Baptist Parish, business owners are cleaning up some big messes as best they can.

Many businesses were simply destroyed while others have a lot of work ahead before they can reopen.

“All this was gone,” said TJ Qutob, pointing to the patio ceiling at his restaurant in LaPlace,

Qutob was inside Petra Restaurant on Airline Highway the morning Hurricane Ida served up fury across the parish.

“The wind itself was so strong,” Qutob said. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”

That wind took off part of the roof, tore down a wall, and like everywhere else, left his restaurant in the dark.

“The ceiling almost caved on us here,” Qutob said, pointing to an interior ceiling.

Qutob was at the restaurant because he was cooking and serving food for first responders that weekend. As parts of his restaurant crumbled around him, some tables were untouched, napkins stayed folded, like nothing happened. Most of the building though is in bad shape.   

“Everybody knows us in LaPlace,” Qutob said. “It’s hard.”

Driving down the street, power crews are working to get the lights turned on, but businesses are doing what they can in the meantime. 

“I literally wanted to cry, but I’m not,” said Amit Bulchandani at Southern Stylz. “I want to stay strong and I think everybody else has to stay strong.”

New clothing inventory is still in boxes on the floor at his store. The inventory was part of a delivery that came right before Ida delivered a blow to the shopping center.

“The water is all over, all the clothes and everything. It’s totally damaged,” Bulchandani said. “Everything is damaged.”

Thursday was the first day Bulchandani was able to start cleaning inside the store.

“We’re taking out the carpet, we’re trying to gut the walls out and everything,” Bulchandani said.

It’ll be a while before all St. John businesses get back to business, which means many owners and employees are out of a job.

“I’m out of an income right now, God knows for how long, but we have to fight through it,” Bulchandani said.

It’s a fight Bulchandani says he and other business owners in his shopping center are up for.

“The grocery store is going to come back, we all are coming back,” Bulchandani said. “Nobody is leaving from this.”

That includes Qutob, who’s now battling with insurance. He says most of that food for first responders spoiled and was told insurance wouldn’t cover it.

“I’m just going to take it one day at a time, rebuild, fix it back up and get back in business,” Qutob said.