When The Floodwaters Came: Part 1
“There’s two feet of water outside my door.”
“My car is flooded. The road is flooded.”
“What if water comes in my house?!”
“Dad, I can’t get out!”
My life changed in a dramatic way yet again on August 13, 2016. Over the course of a few days, the area in which I live received over 30 inches of rain. This overwhelmed the already swollen drainage and river systems and flooding would surely follow. We just didn’t know how much. We had no clue.
On August 11, I dropped my daughter off at her new school for her first day of first grade. It was raining…still. The weather apparently mirrored my emotions. I, however, started to feel better. The rain apparetly did not get that memo and hadn’t stopped. The rain fell so hard and so long that school was called off the following day because some roads had flooded. That wasn’t typical, but it still wasn’t cause for alarm…yet. My own road tends to hold high water during heavy rains, and it has closed on multiple occasions. Nothing I haven’t seen before.
I live on 24 acres, and my house is situated on the front part of my property, well off the road. On August 12, 2016, my neighbor from across the street asked if her dog was all right. They were out of town and had heard about the rising water. There was indeed water on the road in front of my neighbor’s house. But my part of the road was clear. I waited for a break in the rain and then walked to the edge of my property so I could get a good view of her dog. The water was nowhere near her house or mine. In fact, there were indications of that bit of standing water in the road was going down. I’ve lived in my house over 10 years. Water has never come in my yard or the road in front of my house. I knew more rain was coming overnight. I just didn’t know how much. I had no clue.
I went to bed that night after I checked outside. Everything was as it always is, normal. Yet, something gnawed at me. I’m not sure what it was. Maybe there was thunder, and it scared me. I can barely remember now. But something told me to keep Olivia close that night. I let her sleep in my bed, which is something I never do.
The next morning I awoke to my house phone ringing. It was my dad. The line was fuzzy and I couldn’t hear him. I went to grab my cell phone to call him back and realized it had been on silent, and I had twenty-four missed calls and messages. My heart sank. Something happened. I just didn’t know what. I could hear the rain on our metal roof, so I drew my bedroom curtains to see if we had any standing water in my yard. Nothing could have ever prepared me for what I was about to see.
Outside my window I saw at least two and a half feet of water as far as the eye could see. I saw it with my own eyes, but I was in disbelief. I ran to the back door and saw that our pool was two feet under river water. Olivia’s little treasures like her bike were floating away. My garage that housed my car and so many of Daniel’s things was already flooded. I looked further into my backyard and saw my chicken coop was flooded. A mixture of panic, fear, and extreme sadness took hold. I prayed that my chickens were able to get high enough on their roost to escape the water. But I knew my rabbit would have nowhere to go, and I couldn’t get to any of them.
My life and that of my child has never been in immediate danger. Our home was our safe place, even after Daniel died. My home had a way of comforting me. But that day I had no way of protecting us. The water was coming, and it was coming fast, rising more quickly than I’ve ever seen. We were stuck. We had no way to get out, and I had no idea how high the water would get. It was never supposed to get this high. In less than a foot, the water would be in my home. The water was coming.
Since Daniel died, I’ve really tried to give Olivia stability and be strong for her. I pride myself in staying calm around her. I like having plans and knowing what to do. That day, I panicked. Olivia panicked too. As I was on the phone with my dad, tears flowed freely. When I realized that the water would most certainly come in my house, I just as quickly realized I didn’t know how to get us out. My father-in-law then called and said they were trying to get a boat to come and get us. I had no idea how long that would take. I didn’t know if the boat would be able to get to us before the water did.
I frantically ran around my house trying to pick up anything I could. How do you pick up and try to save ten years of your life? People say these are just things. They’re right. The things in my house are certainly not more important than our lives or that of others, but all of these things make up our life. They hold the memories of Christmases, first steps, of Daniel. I point to these things and tell Olivia the stories of her daddy. Now the floodwaters would take them. I put some clothes in two trash bags and our important papers in another. Three trash bags held the entire contents of our lives.
As I ran from room to room, I kept an eye on my front yard. The water was high, but I wasn’t sure that a boat could get over my fence. I could still see fence posts in some spots. It occurred to me that we might have to wade into the water to the street. The thought terrified me because the water had a slight current to it. I wasn’t sure how to get Olivia, our dog, and myself to the road. Then, by the grace of God, I saw a random boat floating down our street. It wasn’t the boat that had been sent, but good-hearted people looking to help. I flagged them down, and they managed to get over my fence. I put Olivia, the dog, and our trash bags into the boat then got in myself. We were finally on our way to safety. Just then, I looked back at my house. Water was still rising. I didn’t even know if my home would be there when I got back. If the water got high enough, the force of receding waters could take it right off the piers. It was a terrifying thought, one I did not want to entertain. The good Samaritans brought me to a waiting truck. Once we got in, I didn’t know exactly where we would go. My mother-in-law was supposed to be waiting for me at the post office nearby. When we got closer, I realized that the post office had flooded too. I found dry land and my mother-in-law a little further down the road. Thankfully, they managed to save one of their vehicles. Once Olivia and I were safely in their truck driving away from the water, I could finally breath. The worry did not subside. My oldest brother and his family were still trapped in their house by water.
The rest of the day was spent coordinating rescue efforts with my community via Facebook. We’re blessed enough to live in a community where a vast amount of people have their own boats. These people would later be called the Cajun Navy. These volunteers secured their own families and left them to save so many people from their own homes. No one asked them to. No one paid them. The great men and women of my community knew that if they waited for outside help, people were surely to die. The rain wasn’t stopping. So they went where help was needed and worked well into the darkness of night.
I kept checking back with my mom to see if anyone was able to get to my brother. Most of the day went by, and they still hadn’t been rescued. The water was now multiple feet deep within their home. Both vehicles flooded. I was able to leave before the water got in. They had no choice but to sit and watch the water come for them, their house, their belongings, their whole lives. My father eventually took matters into his own hands. What he did next still has me shaking my head in disbelief.
The day was dragging on. The rain was still falling. The water was still rising. My brother and his family were still stranded. Keep in mind that on this day we still had no idea how high the water would get. My dad was faced with the possibility of harm coming to his family or doing something about it, he chose the latter. My dad borrowed a canoe (yes, a canoe!) from a neighbor and loaded it into his truck. He drove as close as he could to my brother’s house. He unloaded the canoe as close to the beginning of the subdivision and started paddling. I was on the phone with my brother telling him I think I found a boat to come and get him when all of a sudden he says, “Wait, is that dad…in a canoe?” Yes. Yes it was. My dad and my brother put my sister in law, three nieces, and two dogs, as well as the belongings they could fit into the canoe and walked them to dry land.
There are so many stories similar to these throughout my little broken community. Whether you flooded or not, you have a flood story. Either you “got water” or you were helping someone who did. As fast as the water came, it left. That’s when the real devastation and heartbreak set in as so many made it back to their destroyed homes. My house fared better than most, but it has been an expensive headache to say the least. There is definitely more to the story. This was only the beginning.
Stay tuned for part two, The Restoration.
Please consider purchasing a Louisiana Necklace. Proceeds from sales will go to the City of Central Food Bank to help those still in need this holiday season.