LouisianaVoice has been severely wounded but we’re temporarily operating from my daughter’s in Watson, about seven miles north of my destroyed home in Denham Springs. Following a leisurely breakfast Saturday morning, we looked out the front door to see water from the Amite River (a mile from my house) coming across the street.
That was all the warning we got after feeling confident the night before that we were in no peril. We scrambled to throw some clothing into garbage bags, gathered our medications and put our dogs on leashes as the water poured into the home where we had been living the past 22 years.
Shortly after, a flotilla from the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department (that’s West Baton Rouge, as in across two rivers—the Amite and the Mississippi—and two parishes to the west of us) arrived as we struggled to raise heavy furniture. The deputy who came to our door told us it was useless because the water was going to go much higher than where we were trying to raise it. He helped be complete the task anyway—something he didn’t have to do, but did anyway out of compassion for our plight which was growing more desperate by the minute.
He helped carry our bags of clothing and our small dog and I bodily carried our Chow-Golden Retriever mix through the filthy, swirling water that was by now deeper than the tops of my white shrimp boots (a required part of the uniform if you live in South Louisiana). Needless to say the weight of two boots filled with brown river water made jumping onto tho flotilla impossible so a pair of deputies bodily lifted me aboard even as an untimely cramp in my right calf prohibited me from being of much help to my own rescue.
Once aboard, another smaller boat pulled alongside carrying a family with a special needs teenage boy. His wheelchair was lifted onto the flotilla and his father, who lived behind our home on an adjacent street, lifted his helpless, diapered atrophied son and placed him gingerly onto his wheelchair. It was as I watched that boy, unable to even raise his head that I came to the realization that even though I was losing my home, both vehicles, my record collection, my books and my computer, our losses were insignificant.
As we made our way to higher ground in the middle of the Denham Springs Antique District, I looked northward up Range Avenue (LA. 16, the main north-south thoroughfare in Denham Springs, all I could see was a river of water—a river that was now far wider than Old Man River himself.
We passed Centerville Street and my deputy friend (regretfully, I failed to get his name) said, “When we came past this street awhile ago, there was a coffin floating in the water. It floated up that way (as he pointed eastward) but we don’t know where it went.” Coffins popping to the surface, it seems, is a common occurrence during flooding.
The flotilla was too large to make all the way to solid ground, so we had to disembark in shallow water and walk to to the storefronts of the antique shops, some of which already had shattered windows. Soon, another boat appeared bringing abandoned—and frightened—cats and small dogs that had been rescued by volunteers. I still can’t understand anyone abandoning a pet—even after we were turned form one shelter by an apologetic volunteer because of its no-pet policy.
We walked back to the Antique District leading our dogs and lugging the bags of clothing that were growing heavier with each step. We were in constant contact with all three of our daughters who, despite Betty’s admirable calm, were near hysterics. They were only seven miles away but they may as well have been a continent away. There was nothing between us but dark, rushing water that had already claimed two lives—one of whom was in a pickup that was swept off the road even as a local TV news crew filmed the tragedy, helpless to render assistance.
“What’re we going to do if no one comes to take us out?” Betty asked as two Louisiana National Guard trucks passed us taking evacuees to yet another shelter we were told did not accept pets.
“There’re benches on the sidewalk,” I said. “Since we’re now homeless, I guess we can sleep like homeless people.” I only half-joking.
“What if the water keeps rising?” she asked, pointing out it had already advanced about 30 feet up the street since we landed.
I looked around quickly and pointed to a fire escape that ascended up the rear of a store to the second floor.
That’ll work,” was all she said.
As fate would have it, it wasn’t necessary. Deborah LeDay, a teacher who taught with my oldest daughter lives in a part of Danham Springs which, to that point was high and dry. Calls were made and Ms. LeDay dispatched her friend, Johnny Musso to retrieve us. Driving an Infiniti sedan through deep water that at times I could’ve sworn was waist deep, he pulled off the improbable, if not the impossible and an hour later we were in dry clothes and watching TV news accounts of the flood.
As usual, when the chips are down AT&T drops the ball. For the third consecutive emergency in this area, AT&T subscribers (like me and two of my daughters) lost service for more than 24 hours. As I write this, I still have no service. Jennifer has Verizon and never lost service. Only when we arrived at her home could we contact family members and friends in other parts of the country and let them know we were okay. Another evacuee taken in by Ms. LeDay, a friend of each of my daughters, has Sprint and only by using her phone could we arrange our second rescue.
By noon Sunday, daughter Amy, husband Chris and the twins arrived to pick us up. No reflection on Leah and Jennifer, but I don’t think I have ever been happier to see one of my kids. We are now safe and secure in Jennifer’s home which, incidentally, will also be our home for some time to come. (Note to self: when things return to normal, switch carriers.)
Oak Point Grocery in Watson, by the way, contacted Live Oak United Methodist Church across the highway, which was serving as a shelter for evacuees. Oak Point owners had a message: because the store was going to flood anyway, why don’t LOUMC volunteers come over and clean out the store’s shelves so evacuees can be fed? That, folks, is the true spirit of Christianity.
Also, to West Baton Rough Sheriff Cazes and his deputies, to the Louisiana National Guard, Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard, the many churches and volunteers, Louisiana State Troopers, and to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who gave of his time serving evacuees in shelter food lines, a simple thank you is just not enough….but THANK YOU anyway.
We had planned our next fundraiser in October, but events now dictate otherwise.
We desperately need help now. We have lost clothing, appliances, computers, files, records, books, jewelry, vehicles and our home. We had no flood insurance because we we were on high ground that had never before taken on water.
Please help us raise needed thousands of dollars. If you can find it in your hearts to help, you may either click on the yellow “Donate” button to the right or mail checks to:
Capital News Service-LouisianaVoice
P.O. Box 922
Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727