That night we learned that school would be cancelled Friday, and Friday a foot of rain fell in the greater Baton Rouge area. My family and I hunkered down- glued to the news. The reports started of cars being swept off the roadway; in fact, reporters caught it all on tape. My husband and I watched in horror as we watched live footage of people in their cars being swept away in the flood current on roads that no one realized were impassable- with no one able to brave the waters to rescue them. Several Louisianians died that day by attempting to drive through flood waters. No one realized how bad this would be.More than 30 inches of rain fell in less than 48 hours. Rivers reached record breaking flood stages. Our neighboring parishes, Livingston, and many parts of the city of Baton Rouge were under water. Thousands of people evacuated their homes by foot or by boat. Roads were unnavigable or closed.
A New Orleans Times Picayune reporter documented week one in photos here.
Now… we are used to rain, y’all. It is WET here all the time, but this was rain that had never been seen before.
It was soon being called “the Great Flood of 2016” and the “1000 year flood.”
(both of these photos taken from the video at the end of this post)
While first responders did what they could, it was the local fisherman/sportsmen that became the heroes. Regular guys/fishermen gassed up their boats and went door to door rescuing people from their rooftops, their upstairs windows, and some even from their beds as water rose while people slept- without them even knowing.
They are now being called The Cajun Navy. My hat goes off to these guys. Without them this flood would have resulted in an unthinkable number of lives lost. One of them happens to be a former students of mine who, to my surprise, popped up on NBC news!
A local newspaper rode along for a rescue you can view here; like so many, the family and their dogs in the video were rescued from the roof of their home.
A family friend of ours was awoken by a phone call from his neighbor to get out the house and get into his boat. He only realized water had risen in his home when picking up the phone resulted in a splash on his bedside table. So many evacuated while others hunkered down in their homes with no no way out. Another friend of ours laid in his bed and simply watched the waters rise throughout the night.
Oh, and don’t think all the fur babies and four legged were left behind. No way.
Louisianians are nothing if not big hearted. Animals were moved to dry land, sheltered, cared for by vets, and/or found new homes.
Much to our dismay, it continued to rain. And rain. Rain waters had no where to drain, and the flood waters kept rising in our Ascension Parish. While I live on some of the highest land in Ascension Parish and felt like our home would be safe, the calls and texts flooded in from friends and family who had either evacuated or whose homes had already taken in water. Everyone searched for a dry friend, neighbor or family member. Traffic was gridlocked with cars moving about 1 mile per hour. Everyone was in search of a dry place to land or trying to get to a family member’s home. Gas and groceries became scarce and shelters filled up. I took in my niece who could no longer get to her home. We watched the news and waited and held our breath.
And then many lost power and even more lost cell service – everyone with AT&T was completely disconnected. With tensions already high, now on one could check on family members. Believe it or not, facebook messenger (IF you had power and IF you had wifi) was the only way to communicate.
We weren’t the only ones holding our breath. The messages flooded into my inbox of friends saying “pray it stops; we have about an inch before it comes into our house” and pictures of their front stoops with water right at the edge or other messages like “we are lifting the furniture and then we will leave or “we are staying with ______ please pray.”
Before long our Ascension Parish was overtaken by flooding as well. With nowhere for the relentless rain nor the flood waters to drain, we started to experience back water- water coming UP the drains- you know, the drains in front of your home that are supposed to take rainwater away.
Our neighboring St. Amant was devastated by flooding as well as all of the schools in that area
2 primary schools
1 PK-8 school
2 middle schools
and 1 huge high school
That’s when I knew that life as our community knows it would not be the same for a very long time.
Waters in many parts of Ascension didn’t drain until September and beyond. Many homes stood with water in them for 2 weeks- with families unable to even begin the clean up process.
Many have not even begun. Today as we drove through devastated areas of Livingston Parish, it was clear that many must feel too hopeless to even start.
All we knew to do was cook- cook for the people who had lost everything, offer our washer and dryer, gather as many dry containers as possible for our flooded friends, offer a dry place to come, clean out our closets for those without clothes, blankets and bedding (there are still many Cajuns sleeping on floors and makeshift beds here), offer a helping hand and bring food and love on people.
For Cajuns, gumbo makes everything better- at least for a little while.
Overall, I find people are tired but determined.
The Red Cross has been here as well as Billy Graham’s ministry, and countless others. Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint have come to help and are living in tents in our oppressive Louisiana heat. Volunteers have descended upon the Baton Rouge from across the south and far beyond, and we are so grateful.
It is late October now. You can still see debris on the sides of the roads in many places. Sadly, this is the new landscape.
Like @madiganlarson says above, many did not have flood insurance; they didn’t because their home was never supposed to flood, and they weren’t in a flood zone. Most who did – did not have the contents of their homes covered.
This is my dear friend, Susie. She has a divine design blog and makes the best signs – most of which were ruined and/or floated away during the flood. Funny enough her signs kept popping up in the flood and then found by rescuers. Read her story here.
She and thousand of other have gutted their homes and the amount of water soaked and stained items is too great for waste management to tackle.
The clean up and war against the mold (thanks again, Louisiana heat) is finally done for most. It’s the re-building stage now.
While sheet rock and building supplies were hard to come by initially, it’s coming along. My co-workers dart away for brief chances to meet with FEMA workers to cut through the red tape, meet with adjusters, find available contractors, or meet workers at their homes with hopes they show up.
There are estimates that 31% of homes in our area were flooded- that’s about 1 in every three families. That sounds about right – about 1in every 3 of my coworkers are still living with another (generous, patient) family member or friend, living in a FEMA trailer, etc.
Here are FEMA trailers in Baton Rouge waiting to be delivered to displaced families.
Until they are, they are homeless. The shelters have now closed, and people who had no place to go were dispersed amongst motels across the state. A third of our district’s SLPs were affected by the flood- many evacuated by boat. Eight of our schools are currently unusable with those SLPs displaced- at other schools or makeshift campuses. It’s tough. One has since resigned and another has chosen to retire. I don’t blame them. It’s a struggle here in Ascension, but as our Superintendent said…Ascension means to rise…. We will rebuild and rise above this. Better days are ahead.
OHHhhh and not to mention… the SLP love AND DONATIONS from across the country – and even further- have been amazing- overwhelming really! Please be sure to read my next post about THAT goodness!
Right now I am just grateful that my home was spared but heartbroken for my friends who are hurting, who are tired, who are financially stressed, whose relationships (from living under such close quarters) are strained, who are frustrated and beaten down by bureaucracy, who want life to be normal again.
And I am proud. I am proud to live in a place where people band together- where they don’t hestitate to give respite and care- where generosity and hospitality flows are freely as wine does.
Right before the flood, our city was riddled with racial tension and anger from the shootings of Alton Sterling and several beloved police officers. Thankfully this tragedy has brought a much needed wave of colorblindness. Facebook posts across the state proclaimed, “There are only 2 kinds of people in Louisiana, dry people and wet people” and USAtoday summed it up like this…
If you are so inclined to pray, please say a prayer for those affect by the flood. They have a long road ahead.
To those of you who have been praying, volunteering and donating all along, we feel it. Thanks for the love.