Katrina. Rita. Gustav. Ike.
This hurricane has no name.
Unless you happen to be a resident or have connections to the Gulf Coast region, you may only vaguely recall the last three named storms on this list. It is a storm with no name, however, that has already taken its place next to Katrina as one of the most devastating natural disasters in Louisiana history.
With over 20 parishes added to the federal disaster declaration, 75% of the homes in Livingston Parish lost (and an astonishing 90% in Denham Springs), the impact of the Great Flood of 2016 will be felt for decades to come, supplanting the flood of 1983 as the worst flood in modern Louisiana history. The devastation runs from the Mississippi border along the I-12/I-10 corridor all the way through Baton Rouge and on past Lafayette.
Summers in Louisiana are sub-tropical—hot & humid to an extreme degree—and daily thunderstorms are the norm. As such, when the rain began to fall last Thursday, the ground was already saturated. When the remnants of a tropical system stalled over the state, the ground was unable to absorb the massive quantity of water dumped upon it over a 48-hour period. Some areas saw three months’ worth of rain within a 24-hour period. Let me stress that while much of New Orleans sits below sea level, for the most part the places that flooded this past week do not. In fact, many of those places never flooded before, not even in the massive flood back in 1983.
As new parents of a three-month-old daughter, my wife and I experienced the Great Flood of 2016 in a wholly different way than we did those named hurricanes that preceded it. Hurricane Katrina may have caught New Orleans off-guard with its late turn to the north, but we had 48 hours to evacuate (those preparations were largely futile after the levees failed, but that is another article altogether). When the rains began with a thunderstorm on Thursday night, August 11th, no one was ready for what was to come, and as a husband and new father I wanted to protect my family at all costs.
When Katrina hit, I was in my early 20s and a graduate student at Louisiana State University (LSU). It was just before classes started and my roommates went to grab lunch at fast food place. In a time before social media saturation, we instead learned something was wrong when we saw the line at the gas station was around the block. Being grad students with few possessions or responsibilities to others, we immediately went back home, dropped off two of the cars near the top of a parking garage, piled in one of my roommate’s cars and headed for Atlanta. Our evacuation preparation took maybe an hour or two.
Eleven years later as a husband and father my priorities are completely different. On Friday we first heard that the rain might cause flooding, I started running weather apps on three devices almost constantly. Unlike Katrina, this time around there was no warning about how devastating the flooding could be, and the flooding itself has prevented us from evacuating. We are in our house forced to ride this out with our new daughter. Being afraid for yourself is one thing, being afraid for your wife and child is a whole other feeling. Since Saturday there hasn’t been much we could do to protect our daughter and ourselves. The only thing we can do is watch our weather apps and pray like mad that we’re spared.
My wife and I, and our infant daughter have been lucky—we remain safe and dry in our townhouse in Baton Rouge’s Mid City neighborhood. Many of our family members, friends, and coworkers lost everything, and they lost it quickly. My wife’s parents were able to get some sandbags around their house, but by Saturday it was completely under water. This was the house my father-in-law grew up in, that my in-laws were married in and that my wife grew up in. And now it is completely under water. My in-laws made it out safe, but the loss of the house has been devastating to the family.
As our social media newsfeeds filled with images of the flooding, my wife and I took stock of what we—as new parents—had done to prepare and what we would do differently in the future. Here are a few bits of advice we can give to parents to help them prepare for an emergency evacuation situation. This is in no way an exhaustive list, and you should always consult your local authorities on the best preparedness plans:
What We Did:
- When it was obvious that conditions were worsening, my wife and I took stock of our supplies: food, formula, diapers, wipes—anything that the family might need if the city were shut down for an extended period of time. We had flashlights, batteries, rain gear, and our phones were fully charged. My wife ran across the street to the store to pick up extra items, “Just in case!”
- We currently live in a rental property and have renter’s insurance. Be sure that your renter’s insurance covers flooding. Often, it does not. Make sure you ask your insurance agent about getting extra coverage.
- If you own your property, get flood insurance. I don’t care if my family ends up living on a peak in the Himalayas, I will always get flood insurance for our home.
What We Wish We Had Done:
- We needed a better escape plan and a back-up escape plan.
- Accounts from our friends and relatives stressed how quickly the floodwaters rose around them and how little time they had to react. Many of them barely escaped with some important documents and the clothes on their back, leaving behind pets, valuables, and items that may have proved crucial once they made it to shelter.
- You may be familiar with a “Bug-Out Bag” or “Go Bag”. Having important items and documents located together so that they can be easily located and grabbed in an escape is crucial. My wife and I (okay, my wife) keep a fully-stocked diaper bag at the ready, but in the future we will add copies of important documents as well as extra baby supplies to the Bug-Out Bag and diaper bag.
Important Items to Remember:
- Have an escape plan with multiple routes (roads may become impassable) and multiple destinations.
- Make sure you have enough gas in your tank to get out of the disaster area. There may not be a gas station that is a) open and b) has gas.
- Figure out what you will do with your pets.
- Never drive through flooded streets—you do not know how deep the flooding is or how fast the current happens to be: “Turn around, don’t drown!”
- Even after the rain stops, water can still rise, especially as rivers crest. Make sure you know the areas around you that are subject to backflow.
- Unfortunately there are those out there who may try to take advantage of the chaos that follows a natural disaster. Beware of price-gouging and contractor scams when the rebuilding begins.
- Pay attention to local authorities—especially if a curfew is in place.
- Mosquito populations will skyrocket 12-14 days after the rain stops. Be sure you deal with any standing water on your property, wear long sleeves, and if you use bug spray, make sure it has DEET.
I’d like to end by praising social media. One of the main ways this recent disaster differs from Hurricane Katrina is that much of the region had some sort of internet access throughout the disaster. As of Wednesday, August 17th, the body count from the flood sits at 10. It is without hesitation that I say that this relatively low number is due in large part to the fact that people were able to reach out through social media, directing those with flat-bottomed boats to those who needed rescue. As local emergency responders were pressed to the limit, the “Cajun Navy” sprang into action, saving so many who had suddenly become trapped in their homes.
Our community came together to save itself through our newsfeeds, and we continue to do so, directing recovery efforts in real-time, post by post.
We are a resilient people here in Louisiana, and we will rebuild—just as we did after Katrina, after Rita, after Gustav, and Ike. Just as we did back in 1983 and back in March of this year, the last time floodwaters claimed vast swaths of neighborhoods in our region.
We will rebuild, but we will never forget the Great Flood of 2016—the hurricane with no name.
Information For Those In the Region:
- State of Louisiana Emergency Information: http://emergency.louisiana.gov/
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4277
- 225’s Louisiana Flood Resource Center: http://help.225batonrouge.com/
- Local Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/local/louisiana/flood-information
- Capital Area United Way Fund: http://www.cauw.org/floodfund
- NOLA.com: Outside Louisiana? Here’s Where to Mail Donations for Flooding Victims: http://www.nola.com/weather/index.ssf/2016/08/louisiana_flooding_how_to_dona.html
- If you are uncomfortable with sending your money off into the void, here are two specific operations that I can recommend.
- Baton Rouge Community College Foundation Fund: http://www.mybrcc.edu/institutional_advancement/foundation/onlinegive.php
- Healing Place Church: http://healingplacechurch.org/disaster-relief/