With the sun shining for the second day in a row down in south Louisiana Friday, I loaded up my Cajun Reeboks, camera, spare clothes, and water and headed toward Baton Rouge. My intention was to go help Janet, a real mover and shaker from Denham Springs, LA. She had gotten involved with a shelter at a local junior high school. By Thursday night, officials from the local sheriff’s department informed them that this school was not an official shelter and that someone must have broken in. Well, that’s just craziness. They told her the shelter would be shut down Friday morning at 8 and everyone must find some place else to go. Bear in mind that these people have only the clothes on their bodies, no vehicles, and many are disabled or mentally challenged.
My goal was to go help her move all the items out of the shelter to another location. As I got onto Interstate 10, headed up to Denham Springs, I called her only to have her tell me that the Sheriff’s office burst in gestapo style and ordered everyone to get out and said they were locking the place up. Janet tried to stand up for the needs of these folks but was threatened with arrest. As she hugged each displaced person, all of whom had not showered in a week, she left with a heavy heart. I heard the despair in her voice as she told me there was no need to come. She would not be allowed to remove any supplies from the building. “Go help somebody else, Wendy. There’s nothing you can do here.” God bless you, Janet.
I then called my friend Polly, who lives in Oak Grove Estates in Prairieville. Miraculously, in a neighborhood where beautiful two-story houses were inundated with the flood waters from Bayou Manchac, her house sits on an island, surrounded by water. She walked me around the neighborhood pointing out high-water lines, explaining the local hydrology. By this time, the water had receded enough for folks to start hauling out their water-soaked belongings and furniture and begin the process of cutting out drenched carpets and ruined sheetrock walls. The house in this photo is just one of her many neighbors that were not quite high enough.
Polly’s contribution? She and her sons helped their neighbors any way they could. Joe, age 17 and one of four sons, helped neighbors get out of their homes by way of his little boat with a small engine. After that, he ferried folks back and forth to retrieve family heirlooms like antique quilts that Polly would later wash, dry, and return once folks are re-settled. The interior of the Glover’s home looks like a storage unit with every room filled with their neighbors belongings that were removed before the water got too high.
Now that home demolition has begun, Polly and her sons prepare meals to take around to their neighbors and volunteer workers. So she put me to work making a large quantity of cold pasta salad while she made sandwiches. We then hopped in the truck and Joe transported us a couple streets over to the home of Blake, owner of The Crawfish Place in Baton Rouge and one of the few people who produce soft-shelled crawfish.
To look at the house from the front on the fifth day after flooding, things appear fairly normal; except for the furniture on the front porch and the pile of debris at the curb. If there were any doubt that this area flooded, the stench upon exiting the vehicle literally would certainly wipe away all doubt. The odor is unmistakable, if you’ve been to a post-flood area before, that is. Bayou Manchac runs behind their house about 50 yards and is the source of their flooding issues.
It was easy to see that Blake and his wife Lindsay were putting on their best faces for us. Friends had come to help over the past couple of days hauling wet belongings and cutting out sheetrock. Fans circulated air throughout the house while Blake enlisted the help of Polly’s two sons, Alex and Joe, to remove the rest of the furniture. As we rode down the streets, the multitude of once-beautiful antique furniture lining the roadsides was overwhelming. Just look what sitting overnight in water did to this old cedar-robe pictured below. Of course, everyone found something to be thankful for–their lives, for one. With a flood event of this magnitude and no forewarning, it’s a miracle that only 13 people lost their lives.
Never in a lifetime did any of the families who flooded from Denham Springs down to Sorrento and across to Lafayette think their homes would flood. Many of these people did not have a flood insurance policy in effect. One entire new subdivision in Lafayette was told when they purchased their homes that they were not in a flood zone and did not require flood insurance. So, how in the world did this flooding happen when this was not driven by a hurricane?
This major rain event is being called “a hurricane without high winds” and “an inland tropical depression”. A low pressure system that started in Alabama moved into Louisiana and hung over south Louisiana for days, dropping record-setting amounts of rain starting Friday morning August 12. By Sunday morning, the Amite River at Denham Springs, just east of Baton Rouge, was at 46.2 feet, nearly five feet above its previous record crest of 41.5 feet on March 8, 1983. Like a tropical depression, the low had a warm core, and the counter-clockwise flow of air around the storm brought huge amounts of tropical moisture from the near record-warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and northwest Atlantic northwards over land. The system dumped as much as two feet of rain in two days over many parts of south Louisiana. That is more rainfall than Los Angeles has experienced in over three years. And the little town of Watson, LA received over 31 inches of rain during this “inland tropical storm”, which is more than Omaha, Nebraska and Minneapolis-St. Paul average for an entire year.
While you let that information soak in, realize that the Louisiana Mississippi River Basin serves as the “watershed” for 40% of the nation and part of Canada, as illustrated by this image. Add to that information the fact that much of south Louisiana is already under forced drainage, and 12-30 inches of rain then becomes the tipping point for severe flooding and disaster. In Livingston Parish, the current numbers state that 100,000 of the approximate 180,000 residents are now displaced due to flooding. Denham Springs is in that parish, and if any parish EVER needed shelters for folks to stay in, Livingston certainly does.
All things considered, preparing a meal and delivering it to flood victims just doesn’t seem like doing much of anything; but every little bit helps. If you would like to help, there are plenty of Facebook community pages listing needs and drop-off locations and other ways to volunteer. Some folks are donating WalMart gift cards so folks can purchase what they need. If you’d like to help in the Lafayette area, the Acadiana Flooding Help Message Board is a great place to start. Remember, too, that demolition is just the beginning. Since most of these homeowners did not have flood insurance, not only will they need help repairing, but they will also need help replacing bedding, furniture, linens, and clothing when the time comes. If you want assistance finding where you can help, please use a contact box to reach me.