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From The Advocate by Walt Handelsman

It started to rain one Thursday afternoon and didn’t stop at all for two full days.  That’s what happened in Louisiana this month.  There has been very little national media coverage of The Great Flood of 2016.  This news has been spread via social media. Even among those who are aware,  many don’t fully understand just how that plays out for the people who experienced this 500 year flood event .  Yes, 500 year.  That’s how rare and terrible it really was.

People, who left for work one morning, were not able to get home to their families that afternoon.  Hundreds were stranded for over 30 hours on I-12 before the LA National Guard could get there to airlift them out.stats

Thirteen lives were lost in the flood waters.  Their families faced with the loss of what is most precious to all of us – a loved one.

The first shelters were provided by a private citizen.  Patrick Mulhearn opened Celtic Movie Studios to offer shelter for well over 2000 flood victims in the first few days.  Helicopters landing one after another in a grassy area near the studios, discharging people as quickly as possible and lifting off to get more in a matter of a few moments.  The call went out over social media and local news for supplies and volunteers – and they came.  Churches, private citizens, businesses, and medical professionals made their way to the studios to provide whatever they could.

Hundreds of private boat owners, we call them the Cajun Navy, launched into the flood waters to find and rescue those who were trapped by the waters.  They rescued people, horses, dogs, cats, chickens, cattle and more at significant risk to their lives.  When people refused to leave their homes, they gave them much needed supplies.  Oh, did I mention they accepted no payment.  The costs came from their pockets because that’s what neighbors do here.

The waters didn’t discriminate.  The poorest of homes to our Governor’s Mansion were flooded.  Even the dearly departed were not spared.  Caskets were pushed from their resting places and floated far and wide.  There are countless photos of caskets tied to trees, phone poles, and mailboxes to try to keep them close to where they belonged.  These were collected, prayers were offered and first responders escorted them to local funeral homes until they can be identified and returned to their families.

Roads were closed all over the state and interstate traffic re-routed to the north.  Many roads and bridges were destroyed by the flood waters.  Even those folks lucky enough to avoid the water, were unable to go very far.  Worse, supplies could not get in.  Food and fuel ran out pretty quickly.  AT&T had a main tower flood and service was lost for their subscribers throughout the area for days.  Power failed or had to be turned off  – water and electricity don’t play well together.  Water supplies were contaminated by flood waters and boil advisories were posted.  Most were not prepared for any of this – remember, it started with a summer rainstorm.  Not an event that sends people scrambling for emergency supplies.

Thousands of children are still not back in school – there is no school left for them to attend .  In my community alone, over 5000 students are displaced.  The school board has worked hard to keep the kids and teachers together from each school.  When they go back next week, it will be on a split schedule for the high school students.  Dutchtown High students will attend from 7-12 and St. Amant High students will attend from 12-5 – all of them sharing the same school campus.  Proceeds from the parish-wide jamboree football games will be donated to the St. Amant High Gators to help them rebuild, setting aside long held rivalries.

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T-Shirt design & shirts donated by Red Stick Sports being sold at tonight’s football jamboree

Estimates are 1 in 4 of those flooded was not covered by flood insurance.  How does that happen? Remember, this is a 500 year flood event.  Those areas had NEVER even come close to flooding.  They were not in flood zones and had no requirements for flood insurance.  They are also restricted in aid that can be received from FEMA to approximately $30K total because they did not have flood insurance.  Think about how far that money would go if you had to demo and rebuild/refurnish your home or business.

The Baton Rouge Food Bank was one of those organizations located on very high ground that was not high enough.  Food supplies were lost along with all their equipment in the flood waters.

So many have asked how they can help.  The heavy lifting of rebuilding has begun even as some areas are still flooded.  Food and water for those working to clean up in the oppressive LA heat is a big deal.  Help to do the work for the elderly and physically challenged who can’t demo and clean up the mess is much needed.  All kinds of supplies for cleanup – brooms, mops, rubber gloves, face masks, mold spray and storage containers.  Donations to local organizations like the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and Baton Rouge Food Bank with a long history of good stewardship of donations for this area will ensure your contribution is used efficiently.  What about those schools?  Our first lady, Donna Edwards, is partnering with LSBA to help Louisiana’s schools.  How about animals? Cara’s House is providing care and shelter to pets and livestock at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center and donations are welcome at the various animal shelters in the flooded parishes.  A local vet, Brennan Fitzgerald Lee, is caring for horses injured in the waters at her own expense, she could use some help.  There are many organizations working hard to help Louisiana recover, these are just a few I can name quickly.  There are countless family GoFundMe accounts and many organizations have Amazon wish lists published.

Louisiana has proven she can rise to the challenge in the past few weeks.  We appreciate every offer of help, support and encouragement we receive. But above all, the people of Louisiana are grateful for your prayers.

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On a personal note: We were among those few who avoided the flood waters, though it was a close call.  My grandchildren have used some of this time off from school to volunteer at the local shelter – getting a valuable life lesson in the process .  Unfortunately, my sister-in-law lost her home and it’s contents.  That home and her heart were opened to so many over the years when they needed a place to go, including my family.  Please say a little prayer for her and her husband as preparations are completed to bulldoze what was left of their home after the flood.

 

 

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