Updated with cliff notes and pictures at the bottom. 8/30/2019
Anyone who knows me knows that I am resilient. In fact, I am probably resilient to a fault. Take the last few months; my husband was laid off from his lucrative job, getting another very quickly, though making far less money, but we managed to pick ourselves up and are making it work. No complaints. My carpal tunnel is so bad right now that even this post has taken me over a week to write, and our financial situation has ruled out medical treatment for a while. But that’s okay too, because I can do a lot to treat it on my own and I refuse to stop living my life.
There is more, but I won’t bore you with it. The point is that there is little in life that I have allowed to truly bowl me over. The last 2 and a half weeks have been a new experience for me and it’s a sad coincidence that the day I finally publish this post marks 11 years since the horrors of hurricane Katrina…
It’s been over 2 weeks now since Louisiana began battling historic flooding and the struggle still rages on. It’s hard to live in the midst of it and not be blind-sided by a multitude of emotions: Guilt for being relatively untouched, while neighbors not too far down the street are throwing out most of their belongings and some may even have to level their homes, starting over. Fear that we could have been next since the forecast calls for more rain every day for awhile and my emergency alerts would go off when the first drop would fall. Sadness, such sadness, over the loss of life and property. ANGER over the judgmental and ignorant comments appearing all over social media. FURY over the national news media basically ignoring us the first week of this tragedy and really continuing to do so. PRIDE for a state fighting the label of racism it’s worn for so long, where strangers of all creeds and colors are bearing each other up and helping, from clean up to life saving. SHOCK, mostly shock, that something this huge can still be happening in our home state.
Those aren’t just my feelings, but also those of others I’ve spoken to. I’d like to walk you through the last couple of weeks and give you a look around…
It was Thursday night, August 11, 2016 and here in Southern Louisiana we have crazy hot summers, so usually, an afternoon pop-up thunderstorm is a given. It started raining that evening and I thought nothing of it when it poured all night and then all day Friday. School had been cancelled due to expected thunderstorm activity, but I wasn’t worried since this happens sometimes down here.
On Friday morning I went to work in the garage, building a hot tub cover (it’s hideous, but functional) and did the thing I always tell myself NOT to do- worked without a radio. My kids were there, so we talked and worked in comfortable silence.
Jamie was due home at around 5:30 pm and I would pick him up in the same place I always do, just a mile from the house. He called to tell me he was almost there, but then told me to hold on. He was being detoured and couldn’t get where he needed to go. Police were blocking the road and he would call me back when he knew what was happening. I assumed some idiot had been speeding on the wet roadway and it was closed to clean up an accident. When he called back minutes later, he told me that he would have to back track 30 minutes to park because he couldn’t get through due to flooded roads being closed.
Below is drone footage of the truck stop he was thinking of returning to park:
Well, perhaps this was a storm to be concerned about… No problem. I told him I’d call the Walmart 2 miles from the house, get him permission to park there and be right over to pick him up. Eventually, he was able to find roads open to get him there and I hopped in the car to go retrieve my man.
Every road out of our neighborhood was flooded and there was no way I could get to him. He was forced to sleep in his rig in the Walmart parking lot with other truck drivers in the same boat (no pun intended). 2 miles away! My concern over what this storm could bring us went up a few notches.
I wasn’t scared of the storm, but the fact that roads were flooding and Jamie was a mere 2 miles away, unable to get home, rattled me. Alone with 2 kids, during 90 degree heat and horrible storms, with power failure likely…Ugh.
Luckily, our power failure lasted less than a minute, but because the T.V. antennae we ordered couldn’t be delivered with the road closures, I was forced to rely on the internet for my news. Let me tell you, that sh** is slow during storms!
What I could glean told me that towns around us were starting to flood and tons of roads were being closed. Sleep was hard to come by that night and my kids were scared, despite my assurances that we live on one of the highest spots in the parish and that I would be up all night checking on things.
The boys and I woke early, Andrew delighted to tell me that he had heard me go out every hour to check the property and water levels (I didn’t tell him that it wasn’t every hour). The rain was still pouring, harder and more constant than I’d ever seen, and I’ve lived through several hurricanes, including Andrew (the storm, not the child, in this case).
For the first time since we moved into this house 2 years ago, the pool was overflowing, as was the hot tub I’d emptied days earlier. Thankfully, whoever built this house was a drainage genius and we were still dry.
Jamie decided he was going to walk home from Walmart. He would make his way down the railroad tracks near our home, but would first have to wade through hip and chest deep water to reach the tracks. He later told me he was able to “balance beam on some concrete construction barricades in the manner of an Olympic gymnast” to keep mostly dry. He must have been pretty scared for us, but didn’t let it show, as only he can do. He had been watching the news in his truck and felt like he had to get home to us. Though I’m so glad he did, it had to be pretty scary news to make him leave the safety of his dry rig, risking serious injury or worse, to walk home to us. My knight in shining, soggy armor.
Being the concerned and loving wife I am, with a dash of tomboy thrown in, I suited up to go get him on the 4 wheeler, rather than force him to walk the full 2 miles. Sadly, he had moved the keys (why do men do this?!?) and it took me over an hour to find them (on the lawnmower. Huh?), and as I was preparing to head out, he walked in the door.
He was soaked, but home safely. He told me that the entire area where he parked was under anywhere from a foot of water to 5 feet and that he’d hardly seen a soul. There were no cars out because people couldn’t get anywhere without a boat at this point.
He took a much needed hot shower and then we braved the moments where the weather changed from heavy downpour to hard drizzle briefly to drive across the street to check the flooded roadways surrounding our home. If, God forbid, evacuation orders came, we needed to have a way out.
The road across the railroad tracks, driven every day by thousands of people, was more of a raging river than a flooded roadway and a large section of it was washed away. Somehow, this really conveyed the magnitude of what was happening in our area.
Mandatory curfews started going into effect and the rain just kept on coming. Something so many of the Judgy-Joes don’t seem to understand is that a large portion of what was flooding was not in a flood zone. We are not in a flood zone, but this is what our highway looked like:
I’m not sure how many thousands of shares this video got when I posted it to our local news station’s page, but I know it’s not because of the awesome quality or commentary. I think it was people trying to wrap their heads around what was happening here in our own towns, our own communities. It was happening to our families, our neighbors and our friends. It wasn’t those poor souls in New Orleans or Baton Rouge- close enough to leave us shaken, but far enough away to give us a sense of safety. It was happening to all of us.
I believe the death toll at this point was at 9 and there were still people and animals being rescued. The destruction we saw on the internet was mind boggling.
By Sunday morning cabin fever was starting to set in and I worried that my husband would swim to his rig, if need be, to retrieve some things out of it, so I was thankful that one lane on an alternate highway had opened up. We rode in stunned silence, taking in the destruction our non-flood zone area had been dealt. Debris and standing water were everywhere, people with hollow eyes passed us by, watermark levels on buildings were a few feet high in areas and some homes and businesses still had water coming through the doors. These are just pictures from our neighborhood:
The scope of our situation became clearer as the rain began falling hard again, so Jamie ran into Walmart, grabbed a T.V. antenna and we headed straight home.
The neighborhood kids made the best of things. Mine took out an old boat with friends and sank it repeatedly, while some of the older kids in the neighborhood rode up and down the street on 4 wheelers, pulling each other in the ditches on knee boards. I’m sure most of us saw this video my cousin’s friend posted as the storm was getting geared up (before the severity of the situation became clear) since the Olympics were on:
Maybe because our television viewing was limited, as was phone and other service, plus we had a rare opportunity to have all of us together as a family for more than one day, but I still didn’t really understand how big this thing really was and was glad for the time spent connecting without technology. Or maybe the shock was kicking in and my overactive self-preservation instinct was protecting me, but it just didn’t seem real.
That night I hooked up our antenna and again delved into the internet due to a bad bout of insomnia. I was again shocked by all that I saw. Interstates closed and washed away, homes under water, to the roof lines in some cases, people being saved seconds before drowning, livestock and pets in peril, 11 dead at this point and lives changed forever by mother nature’s power. For the first time, I was pretty scared, but I saw some things which restored my faith in my fellow Louisianans. This video in particular made my heart swell with pride:
All creeds, all colors, all orientations had become “one people,” and I think it’s a tragedy that these examples of unity were not front and center in the national media every day!
And let’s not forget those awesome folks in the Cajun Navy who have rescued thousands when others couldn’t! Have tissues handy.
Monday, Jamie was able to go to work and left early, leaving me with a growing fear and sense of powerlessness. He had to go, and believe me, I am grateful he is such a diligent provider. I just meant that the full force of what was happening was starting to hit me hard. Rivers were rising all over, some not set to crest until days from then and already 6-10 feet over major flood stage.
The schools were cancelled and the rain kept falling, but the people of Louisiana rallied around each other unlike anything I’ve ever seen personally, outside of the horrors of 9/11. Some shelters were asking people to stop donating certain items because they were overstocked and my friends at Animal Aid For Vermillion Area were wading through chest deep water to rescue cats, dogs, horses, llamas and more.
The Cajun Navy had had hundreds of boats on the water at all hours, rescuing trapped people and animals and delivering needed supplies. I didn’t speak to anyone who wasn’t out helping or donating their time, supplies, or just simply their prayers.
That night, I again made the mistake of searching on the internet and social media for evidence that our story was getting national attention from the press and found very little. What little I did find was peppered with comments from ignorant people wondering why we would bother to rebuild in flood zones, or saying that the rich people losing their $300,000 homes were being introduced to karma, pictures of floating caskets, people saying that this “red state was sure not opposed to big government now,” many jack wagons stating that the caskets were old news and not part of a 500 or 1000 year flood because they saw that during Katrina, and moronic, judgmental zealots saying that the wrath of God was falling on this state. My blood began to boil.
I may not have mentioned this, but much, if not most, of the flooded areas ARE NOT IN FLOOD ZONES AND HAVE NEVER FLOODED BEFORE. EVER. The amount of rain that fell in a short period of time has rarely been seen since Noah’s days. In fact, the Baton Rouge area, which was incredibly hard hit, was where many people who were evacuated from Katrina were taken for rescue. It’s been estimated that 90% of Denham Springs was damaged. The people who were saying that we all just need to pack up and move don’t seem to understand the whole flood zone thing, but more importantly, don’t seem to understand the whole Louisiana cultural pride thing and love of the area which keeps so many here.
If you follow this blog, you’ve seen the pictures of the beauty we are surrounded by. What I can’t show you in pictures is how many of the people here live in the same neighborhoods as their parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. I can’t photograph their traditional weekly dinners, their time together sipping drinks on the porch or the weekends they go as a family to a fais do do in the park together. I don’t have pictures of the gumbo they cook for one another during sickness or surgeries, and I can’t provide evidence of the lines of family generally waiting outside hospital rooms when the need arises. These are not easily walked away from in the best of times and it’s far harder when you know you are needed.
As for people being unimpressed with caskets floating and the amount of water our “laughable 1000 year flood” brought us, a thousand year flood doesn’t mean it only happens every thousand years. It means this 1,000-year event has a 0.1% chance of happening in any year, Pretty good odds, I’d say. Katrina was hell on Earth and the loss of life was horrible, but that was also a much smaller area than the 20 parishes (counties) now declared disasters. Roughly, 110,000 homes are estimated to have been damaged, but the number is climbing and the death toll stands at 13. Estimates say that the damage stands at about 21 billion dollars, but of course this can’t include businesses losing money until they can get back on their feet again, if ever. Again, many people who survived Katrina moved to these areas to escape the odds of a repeat and have now lost everything once again.
People went to bed Thursday night and woke Friday morning to literally feet of water encroaching upon, or in their homes. Preparation was not an option and I ask you to imagine how most areas would handle this kind of rainfall?
Here’s a map showing the parishes declared disasters, but keep in mind these are only parishes declared disasters. Remember that the surrounding parishes sustained heavy damages as well and some are still flooded and this flood was an equal opportunity destroyer. It didn’t just take the rich, it took the poor, the middle class and all in its path.
To the wrath of God people I would say that more people communed with God and represented him over the last ten days than they themselves will ever hope to see or achieve in a lifetime. Take a seat, judgers. Whether or not you believe in God, compassion and love have reigned here.
Many on social media asked, “Why is the president playing golf instead of visiting Louisiana when Bush was berated for just flying over after Katrina?” Others insisted it was because the governor told him he’d just be in the way and take away much needed manpower. Whichever side you choose, people weren’t too concerned with what Louisianans thought, and just days, or hours in, were already using our tragedy to further their political and other agendas.
No one was bothering to ask the people here in Louisiana what we thought. Had they done so, they would have heard that the prevailing opinion was “keep the government out of our way. We have first responders, police and each other. We’re good and there isn’t time to waste.” I began to think that people who weren’t in the thick of it and had the strong opinions I mentioned above, should take long walks off short piers.
Over the course of the first week, the water in many places rose and more people flooded. I was in the towns of Kaplan and Abbeville on Thursday August 18 and got the following photos. What the photos don’t capture, and people don’t usually talk about after flooding is the smell. Rot, decay, fish and more horrible odors surround you at all times. They say smells conjure the most powerful and deepest buried memories, that olfactory is the strongest sense. I’ll never forget the smells and you know people trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered dreams will cringe at the slightest hint of those odors for the rest of their lives.
The number of people in shelters was going down a bit, but there are, as of today, August 29, 2016, still thousands unable to go home.
Sunday, 8/21, the boys and I went out to try to help a little. All we could do was hand out ice cold drinks and snacks to first responders and people doing clean up. That is what I’ve done all week (my stupid health issues), so don’t think I’m any kind of hero. There are thousands of real heroes out there gutting flooded houses, rescuing and more. I just felt like I had to do something or I would go crazy. Survivor’s guilt? I don’t know, but I also wanted the kids to understand what was happening. Looking at pictures and walking amidst the devastation are totally different. Praying for the suffering is great, and handing someone a cold drink or a bag of chips might seem small, however seeing the tired, but grateful smile on the face of the suffering homeowner who’s lost everything, or on the face of the exhausted first responder, after this small gesture, is a lesson in loving others not soon forgotten by a child…or anyone.
We were shocked that main roads were still flooded and to see a lot of water still standing. Mosquito breeding grounds were everywhere and talk of Zika and West Nile Virus were already hitting the news. Things looked like they could be drying up, but it was still devastating.
On Monday, August 22, I dropped the boys off at school and headed to the town that my family hales from. St. Martinville (the highway closed in the above picture is the main way into town) is an historical and beautiful place in which the local residents take much pride. Main Street and the downtown area looked pretty good, but soon I came to other flooded roads and was shocked that a large portion of homes still couldn’t even think of clean up, let alone rebuilding, because they were still flooded. I returned on Friday, August 26 and found that most of these places were still flooded. This was 2 weeks after the nightmare started.
The fact that there are still thousands of people living in hotels, with friends or family and in shelters right now, makes it very hard to understand why the situation is almost, once again, being completely ignored by the national media. There are areas like Loreauvile, where flood waters won’t subside for a month and kids are getting from their homes to the bus stop by paddle boat…if their homes are liveable. I get that this is an election year, that Ryan Lochte was an idiot and I have no interest in a political, or any debate, but I would ask you why? Why is the media focusing on the issues that divide us- politics, race, religion, etc. Not too long ago, all eyes were on Louisiana for very different reasons, but now that we have managed to destroy our differences and come together, there is barely a camera to be seen. Is good news in the face of devastation that boring? Is the unity we are all professing to fight for not that interesting when it actually happens? Yes, there will always be small-minded, racist morons in the world, but they seem to have lost their voice in my home state. That’s news in and of itself, people!
I write this asking you to remember Louisiana today. Remember us in your thoughts, your prayers, your donations. Adopt a pet who was displaced during the storms and know that we are still here, still helping each other, but still hurting. Reach out to those in need-hundreds of thousands have been touched by this in some way! The end of this one will not be for a long time, if ever, for many people.
I leave you with another video and an article. The video captures the tragedy of the last few weeks and the tenacity of the wonderful people. The article captures the humor and again the tenacity of the Louisiana spirit.
The article can be found at:
8/30/16 In short…
Tens of thousands of Louisianans have had to throw away much, if not all that is precious to them-baby pictures, photo albums, wedding dresses, rare books, furniture, everything down to the studs. It started like this-
And yet in the midst of the growing racial tensions in our country, one of the most notoriously racist states in the country shed its reputation, found love and was virtually ignored when we did this-
When the rain stopped, thousands faced this-
Many homes are still flooded, so they wait for the water to subside, check on things from time to time, pray, and do this-
If they were “fortunate” enough for the water to subside, they had to do this-
Now they wait for insurance adjusters or FEMA and live like this-
While their suffering continues, the national media still ignores their plight and focuses on this-
I do not suggest that none of the above are important. Obviously, most are, but come on, folks! We are one nation and there are stories which need to be told to raise awareness as to what is a continuing struggle for tens of thousands in Louisiana. They still need our help and I thought all of the fighting and focus of the press was to spotlight suffering and to bring about unity… My 2 cents.