Rivers Rising: The 2016 Flooding of South Louisiana

Part I: Surprise and Devastation

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Having lived my entire life in South Louisiana I am accustomed to tropical storms, hurricanes, and flash flooding, but nothing could have prepared me for the epic flooding that occurred on October 12, 2016. It was shocking to watch the rivers rise so rapidly that many of my friends were awaken in the middle of the night with only minutes to flee their flooding homes. The following morning, I hurried to my church which had unexpectedly become a shelter for church members who were forced to find higher ground, having not the time to save anything but the clothes they were wearing. Many of the elderly victims didn’t have time to retrieve life sustaining medicines; children in their pajamas and shoeless; family pets washed away from the arms of their owners wading through chest-high water. Complete and utter devastation.

Life changes in seconds, or in this case, minutes. I’m still haunted by the stories of friends having less than twenty minutes to evacuate their homes, leaving a lifetime of memories to float away in the swift and rising current. These were homes that had never been in danger of flooding, not even in 1983 when devastating floods gripped South Louisiana. I watched, in horror, as the majority of my parish went under water. Internet and cable services failed. Landlines and cellular calls failed. Not even texts would go through. It’s a horrible feeling being completely cut-off from any form of communication with loved ones, wondering if they were safe. For many, including myself, the only source for news and information was a radio, if you were one of the fortunate who still had electrical power. This continued for days.

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86% of the homes in Livingston Parish flooded; 75% of those homes are considered uninhabitable: a total loss. Of the roughly 140,000 residents in the parish, only 20% of the homes were covered by flood insurance. A local landfill that takes in approximately 750,000 cubic yards of refuse estimates the resulting debris from the flood will produce 1,000,000,000 cubic yards of waste in need of disposal from Livingston Parish alone. The numbers are staggering. I count myself in the minority. I am one of the 20% that did not lose my houses or vehicles. I have struggled with tremendous feelings of guilt with each tear I comfort and each hug I give to so many of my friends and family who lost everything.

And, as it is with these types of disasters, one can expect “that element” to arrive in force. Looters combing neighborhoods after the waters receded, digging through a homeowner’s memories which were now relegated to massive piles curbside, to steal away the last bit of dignity that remained. As though the tragic and unexpected loss wasn’t enough to bear, so many residents had to deal with outsiders rummaging through the ruins that were once their lives.

 

More to come about the heroic rescues that encapsulate the human spirit and the people of South Louisiana.

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  1. Nia Farrell says:

    Just heartbreaking. No one can truly empathize who hasn’t experienced it. Such devastation is unimaginable, but the looting that followed in its wake is a sad commonality with traumatic events and natural disasters throughout history. Adversity brings out the best and the worst in human nature, it seems.

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