Louisiana, August, 2016..
A week ago in mid-August, 2016, an area in Louisiana which had never experienced
major flooding was inundated by water from swollen rivers. Torential rain in the
area filled rivers faster than they could drain. The result was massive, widespread
flooding as rivers overflowed their banks and areas saw three or more feet of water.
Baton Rouge, Denham Springs, Walker, Watson, my hometown of Zachary and more were
partially or almost completely under water.
It was an unprecedented event. Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas are fifty-six feet above sea level. New Orleans is averaged at two feet below sea level. But, Baton Rouge. Fifty-six feet above sea level. Not in a flood zone. The flooding was surreal.
I was one of the lucky ones who was not touched by water – this time. I have been in a flooded home in the past. I have been through hurricanes. This time, the waters went the other way.
Livingston Parish was the hardest hit. Official reports state that ninety percent of
Denham Springs (a suburb of our capital city of Baton Rouge with a population of 10,000+) was flooded (forty-three feet above sea level). Ninety percent. Writing the number out doesn’t give justice to the scope of the devastation.
How do you explain such loss to someone who has never experienced flooding? How do
you vividly describe the smell from the aftermath? Or the absence of any sound save
that of rushing water during the flood?
I have friends from all over. Most are here in the US, some are in other countries.
All can empathize. They comprehend what “losing” a home means. Many are in areas
that have their own unique natural disasters – tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires,
There is a difference when it comes to flooding. Water leaves behind its own
particular memories long after the rivers recede. Waterlines, watermarks, red X’s;
waterlogged clothing and possessions gathered in black garbage bags and waiting for
trash pickup which may be a month or more away; mold, mildew, the fetid smell of
water-soaked homes; a heavy blanket of rotten as Louisiana humidity speeds up
the decomposition of consumables spilled out of refrigerators and freezers tipped
over by the water.
Roads were closed by the thousands, impassable because of water. The major interstate system, I-12, was closed for 60 miles when water flooded numerous areas. Motorists were trapped atop overpasses, stranded for over twenty-four hours. We were in touch with several who were stuck with no food or water for over a day. We were helpless to get to them.
Louisiana friends and those who are from Louisiana and now live away – they know.
Living in the southern portion of Louisiana, the toe and heel of our state, is to be
baptized by water. Over and over again. Our coastal state is filled with ponds,
lakes, creeks, rivers and swamps. Even native Louisianians who have never
experienced a flood know people who have.
It is hard to grasp what flooding does to someone who loses all to water. Like many tragedies in life, we can sympathize and empathize, but cannot totally understand until it happens to us.
Because some will never have a flooded house, they won’t know what everyone is calling the “Katrina” smell this week. It was the rotten smell in New Orleans months after the storm passed. Now it’s in the flooded areas of Louisiana and will linger there for awhile.
I do not know what it’s like to be in an earthquake, fire, mudslide, snowstorm. I
can empathize and sympathize because I know what it’s like to be in a flood. I know
what it’s like to have water lay claim to everything. Earthquakes, fires, mudslides
and snowstorms can do the same thing. So, I understand – to a degree.
As I write, I hear thunder outside. Dark clouds are rolling in. Soon, the rain will pour down.
While Louisiana deals with the aftermath of the flooding and more rain to come to an already inundated area of the state, the rest of the world keeps going.
And that’s not a bad thing. We need to see normalcy during this abnormal time.
I’m glad the world goes on. Louisiana will “geaux” on. It’s what we do. It’s who we
are. Perseverance through the worst of times. Communities coming together. Strangers giving to strangers. Everyone wanting to help people put their lives back together.
We are Louisiana.