The 2016 Louisiana Flood: Finding My Words
Bear with me, friends I fear this post is going to be a long one.
It’s been two really, really long weeks.
Two weeks since a historic flooding event happened just walking distance from my home, affecting friends, church family, our neighbors and our community.
Two weeks since I’ve felt like sitting down and trying to put into words and wrap my head around what has happened here.
Two weeks since the water rose at such a rapid pace that it engulfed the home (and surrounding homes on Tiger Bend) right across the street and footsteps from the church that sits at the front of our subdivision entrance.
Two weeks since I snapped this photo while dropping off casseroles to the same neighborhood church that welcomes you into our subdivision, that now occupied hundreds of evacuated people, mostly who were trapped on the interstate, some of which just merely passing through.
Two weeks since that boat was launched from the church parking lot to rescue neighbors no longer able to safely get out of their homes.
The difference separating those of us that were high and dry and those who were low and flooded came down to a subdivision entrance and which side of the adjoining street you were on.
While trapped in our neighborhood at times, we are blessed and we know it.
I’d like to believe that perhaps that was why we were spared, so that we could instead be of some help to those who had lost so much.
Every day I wake up with the same mission. Who can I help today? I don’t think it’s any great coincidence that I have my home, and the ability to halt projects, spend my days helping others, and open up my home to those who can do the manual work that I cannot.
During this historic event, an estimated 40,000 homes were damaged, 30,000 people displaced along with their 1,400 pets. To put things into perspective, nearly 90% of the city of Denham Springs is being considered a total loss. We’re not talking about homes on the lake or river. We are talking about homes in neighborhoods, not in flood zones and business after business destroyed.
I’ve seen it called a 500-year event and an 1,000 year event. People hear Louisiana on the news and assume we are all on the coast. Baton Rouge is more than 100 miles inland. Please don’t think we’re “under sea level” and have no business rebuilding here. It’s inaccurate and a slap in the face to those who have lived their entire lives in the homes that haven’t flooded in the 40 years they’ve been there.
It’s absolutely heartbreaking and it’s been so very hard to find the words that will provide any sort of comfort to those affected. Or the words to speak to you about what it feels like going through the days, exhausted from trying to be everywhere for everyone, yet feeling at the end of the day you really didn’t do all that much. This flood discriminated against no one. People have lost literally everything; those who had a little and those who had a lot. Starter homes, dream homes, million dollar mansions….EVERYONE knows SOMEONE who has lost it all.
I spent years working catastrophe for State Farm insurance dealing with events of this magnitude. I’ve worked Katrina. I’ve cried in FEMA trailers. Devastation isn’t something new for me.
But devastation engulfing your day to day and holding your friends captive is not something I’ve ever experienced. It’s been hard. So very hard.
I do want to document the resilience of so many of my friends, though and I needed to share a snippet of their stories with you.
I hope you don’t mind.
August 13th, 2016 1:45 pm : Are y’all ok?
August 13th, 2016 2:07 pm: “We are good!”
August 14th, 2016 11:50am: Are you still ok? How’s your house??
August 14, 2016: 11:54 am: “We flooded this morning. We are at my moms now. Luckily a dear friend called around midnight telling us water was starting to come in our subdivision. We left on dry roads and woke to see water entering our home on our security cameras.”
(art she left remaining on the wall of her flooded home)
I worked catastrophe with Catherine. Being on this side of things though is heartbreaking to watch. I delivered a flood bucket and Sonic root beers and tried not to cry in front of her as I pulled in front of her home with ALL of her lower level belongings on the curb. Her newly remodeled kitchen….destroyed. A china hutch she built with her late father sat dismantled on the carport, desperate to hang onto even a bit of it. We both cried a little over that.
August 13th, 2016 4:56pm: How are you?!?! I’m seeing horror stories of people being rescued then left for hours. So worried!!!
August 13th, 6:49pm: “We’re ok. At Central High School. Nobody can get to us right now. Think we’ll have to stay the nite”.
Hours after marking herself safe on Facebook the night before, she had to call 911 and be rescued by a boat with her husband, 2 children and 2 dogs. She spent the night in a make shift high school shelter because friends and family weren’t able to get to her. They will be living in a one bedroom apartment as they rebuild the dream home they purchased only 2 months prior.
I delivered ICEE’s (the Sonic in her area remains closed due to flooding) to her ripped apart home while dropping off diapers for the league and couldn’t help but weep internally over the ruined scrapbook of her children drying on the kitchen counter. Even having lost so much, she still devotes her time to reaching out and connecting members of our church also needing help….making sure everyone is taken care of.
August 13th, 2016 6:29pm:
August 14, 2016 8:38am: “If anyone has a boat and is able to help, Ty’s parents & aunt are trapped at —- Old Hammond Highway and need to be rescued.
The water is rising in the home where they are staying”.
Claire is my neighbor. I can stand on my front porch and wave at her on her balcony. On the evening of the 13th we delivered jambalaya, cookies & brownies to the church….in the dark, and by flashlight, because we lost power as I was pulling out the brownies and they were wrapping up the jambalaya. The brownies probably could’ve gone another 2-3 minutes- sorry about that, Vineyard Church. The following day she was busy coordinating rescues for her brother and mother in law. Determined to help her sisterhood of Refit Instructors, despite what her family was facing, she spent the week devising a weekend volunteer schedule. We hosted her friend’s family from Shreveport at our home on the weekend of August 20th because her home was full with extra people and extra dogs.
Everyone needs a Claire on their team.
I’m obsessed with this photo that Refit posted of Sadie- one of the ladies Claire and her crew helped.
The Bee’s Knees is a favorite children’s shop in the antique village of Denham Springs co-owned by one of our Junior League of Baton Rouge members and we stopped to check on Sarah while delivering diapers in her area.
Their children were scrubbing the nasty flood water remains from the display window.
Sarah, while visibly upset over the loss of her business was so very grateful that her home was untouched and she could host family members that had been displaced. We asked her what we could do for her. She humbly requested disposable utensils and plates for the additional 8 family members she was housing. Seriously. That’s all she thought she “needed” during her time of despair.
And then she offered us a Gatorade.
Throughout all this devastation, this is what I know to be true. This community is unlike ANYWHERE I have ever worked during my days of catastrophe response or have experienced in the past. The pride and willingness to help others when so many need help themselves is astonishing. It’s resiliency and strength. It’s beauty while broken. It’s overwhelming and it’s heartbreaking.
My friend and former co-worker, Katie, from Colorado here working the floods summed it up so eloquently:
Baton Rogue, LA – Entire neighborhoods have everything they own stacked in a wall taller than I am at the curb. Not much is salvageable they are cleaning what they can but even now, days later everything is covered in grime and the stench of dirty water is burned into everyone’s sinuses. Curfews are in place and people who have already lost so much have to worry about a few bad people who are trying to take advantage of the situation and loot and steal. Law Enforcement is working themselves into exhaustion trying to keep people safe and protected at the same time most are dealing with flooding of their own. And if not them helping friends, family or neighbors.
But despite all this, the people are smiling and laughing. Helping neighbors, offering smiles and comfort. Keeping a positive attitude and showing how even in the worst of times that southern hospitality isn’t just a saying but a way of life.
“Even in the worst of times, Southern hospitality isn’t just a saying but a way of life”.
This past weekend we once again opened our home to those willing to travel to Baton Rouge to help this community of ours rebuild. Coordinated by our former neighbors- the Perkinson’s, Episcopal Collegiate in Little Rock, Arkansas sent 12 students, their new Interim Head of Upper School (and our greatly missed neighbor), his wife, along with their school chaplain to our town.
Our neighborhood rallied around them, with 2 to 4 students scattered throughout 4 homes to feed them, house them, provide encouragement and to thank them for their service to Baton Rouge.
And I think that’s when it hit me. The Perkinson’s aren’t from Louisiana. They are from North Carolina. They lived here for a handful of years, of which, we became their neighbors. Both weekends following the flood, however, they have journeyed back to Baton Rouge from their new home in Arkansas to help this community bounce back.
And then all at once, I began to finally find my words.
Baton Rouge, the state of Louisiana and its people are so very special, y’all.
We are offended when you don’t understand why we insist on rebuilding or when you question why we remain here.
We are saddened that you likely have never experienced the outpouring of love given by complete strangers when facing adversity therefore you don’t understand our love for this place we call home.
We understand the importance of community and tribes and put our lives on hold for those we care about.
We want nothing more than to feed you, hug you, and convince you that you’ll get through whatever comes your way.
We refuse to be broken and give everything we’ve got to recovering. Even when the odds are stacked against us.
We’ll look back one day and laugh about the time our friends rode in the Cajun Navy boats…and we all ordered t-shirts because we were so impressed with their non-regulated service.
And we’ll be stronger and closer as a community when we get through this, because like Katrina, our resiliency knows no boundaries.
If you would like to donate to the Louisiana Flood Recovery Efforts:
WAFB Flood Donations & Volunteer Opportunities
This is beautifully written, Aimee! I’ve been thinking about you since the weekend you posted on Instagram that your neighborhood was affected. I’m just over in Lafayette, and while I see so much destruction around me, I remember that it’s even worse in BR and Denham Springs. You are awesome for all the work you’re doing!
I’m so glad you were also spared, Caitlin! I have a dear friend in Lafayette that was safe herself, but the front of her subdivision flooded- I know it was crazy there, too. Glad you’re safe!!
Wrapping my arms around you sweet girl. Your community will get through this! Praying relentlessly for LA.
Thank you so very much! And yes, it will definitely be a story of redemption I am sure. 🙂
I just can’t even imagine. I love that you opened your home. You are truly speical.
It’s so heartbreaking seeing everyone’s belongings lining the streets. Just takes the wind right out of your sails. Need to check in on sweet Holly soon!!!
Well spoken as always…..you are amazing. here is a link to Catholic Charities in BR http://www.ccdiobr.org
YOU are another super hero, Lo Lo!!! Can’t wait to see you this weekend for a bit of break from all this. 🙂
Very informative and moving post. We have relatives from Gulfport that went through Katrina. Y’all are very special people!
Thank you for the sweet message! I never thought I’d be having conversations about Katrina flooding, here in Baton Rouge- other than remembering how many of those people were affected and moved up here. It’s incredibly sad to hear stories about people who rebuilt their lives here, only to lose it all again. 🙁
Beautifully written. Our grandmother’s home is one of those homes on Tiger Bend. Having gone through previous flood there, we may have been a little more prepared than most as we knew what happened in the flood of 1983 that was compared to so often. However, we weren’t prepared for the water to rise above the eaves of her home! we know the people who own the old carwash near your neighborhood so we moved things there but even that area was threatened. In the meantime, my nieces and sister in Denham lost 2 of their homes and one was stranded in her home for a week. My mother-in -law’s home took on water. My home was very threatened. our business in Gonzales was taking on water. this is the part most don’t understand! All the places I listed were in completely different areas, relatively far from each other, and they were all affected. Familes couldn’t help their own familes because they either couldn’t get to them or they were fighting to save their own places and lives. Such a sad time for everyone!
Oh my goodness, Dawn. I’ve often wondered how it was affecting people who have their entire families here. I’m from the Alexandria/Pineville area and while my in-laws are in town, and my father is in Watson (shockingly spared and his house was pretty much on an island!), our check list is pretty small. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for your loved ones. And yes, it’s crazy how it would wash out entire neighborhoods then find a pocket of town that it didn’t touch, then poof, more devastation. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do for your grandmother!! Thank you for sharing your story.
All the way from Little Rock your hospitality is felt and appreciated by so many. David and Angela Perkinson has shared your warm welcome and kind heart. We are so glad you were spared any damage so that you could reach out to others. Bless you for opening your heart and home to voluteers who came to lend a helping hand. It was a quick trip but the impact will last a lifetime.
Continued prayers for you and your entire community!!
Thank you so much for your sweet note of encouragement. We appreciate it so very much!
Thank you for sharing your story!! As a girl from the North, who spent months in Mississippi during Katrina, your line “And then she offered us a Gatorade” brought me right back. Right back to the small town of Moss Point, where I was warned to carry pepper spray and instead found myself being fed crackers and given water, while the people had nothing left and I had nothing to give them without the proper insurance for their loss. And yet they were concerned about me and my well being, since I was living off gas station food in a hotel, that was covered in mold. I have never cried so hard and so much in my life. You are right, “Even in the worst of times, Southern hospitality isn’t just a saying but a way of life”. I would be honored to live in the South. You are an amazing group of people who support everyone during their time of need. Blessings to you.
When she offered us a Gatorade, we both looked at each other and then to her and said “WE should be getting YOU a Gatorade!”. She was filthy, sweaty and a mess….yet thinking about us while we stood there all clean and rested. I remember those Katrina days. Same scenario, just swap lemonade in a FEMA trailer versus Gatorades from friends. So many tears! Unlike Katrina, there was no warning for this. No one could’ve known these areas would flood, or predict where the water was headed. My house sits on an elevated 41 feet and we were worried- that’s how crazy this all is! You are welcomed down here anytime!!! We love adopting our northern friends. 🙂
Do you know any papercrafters (card makers) who lost their house in the flood and as a result, their rubber stamps? I have some I’d love to share with someone in need. My e-mail is email@example.com.