My cellphone rang at 7am, Saturday morning. I was still asleep from a full day of working eight hours at my day job and then working until midnight at my night job as a bartender. It was my dad on the phone and he was telling me that my sister’s house was getting water in it from the rising flood waters. I was told to put as much stuff as I could up high because my house was going to flood, too. It was only a matter of time. Put up my valuable stuff, grab what I can, and get out as soon as possible.
I thought that maybe my carpet would get wet. I didn’t know that what would be come to known as the Great Flood of 2016 was far worse than anyone had in mind.
Do you know how hard it is to lift an entire rack of CDs up on to a cinder block when you live by yourself? It’s pretty hard. Those things, and books, are pretty heavy.
When I walked outside to my shed to get the cinder blocks I could see that the flood waters had reached the church and the road on the next block over. People were already playing in the high water and splashing around. This, however, wouldn’t last long.
ter I went inside to hike my CD and book cases up on to cinder blocks I went outside yet again to get more elevation material. That was when I saw that the flood waters had already reached my street. It was moving that fast. I guess that’s why they call it a “flash” flood.
Look, I’ve been through flash floods before. I lived through the Livingston Parish flood of 1983. I’ve lived through every hurricane that swept through my area since 1976. I knew that the flood of ’83 had crested at about 36 feet and the houses in my area didn’t take in any water. But when the TV was on I heard them saying that this coming flood was going to max out at 41 feet…then they changed that prediction to 43 feet…then they eventually changed that prediction to 46 feet.
Well, when I saw the water approaching my house I did some quick math in my head. Hmm, the river won’t crest for another 16 hours. That means that this isn’t even the start of how high this water is going to get.
I told myself that I had to get out of there…now. If I didn’t leave at that moment I would end up being cut off from other parts of the city. I knew the rising water was already blocking off roads, limiting me to where I could go. If I was cut off then I would have to turn around and stick it out in my house–either on my roof or in my attic.
I called my girlfriend and told her that I was coming over. My girlfriend lives on the southern part of town and in a third floor apartment. I’d be safe in a third floor apartment. Right?
So I grabbed enough clothes for three days, my favorite instruments, some gluten free food, one of my guns, grabbed all the cash from the tips I earned the nights before (about $160), and headed out.
Why gluten free? Well, my girlfriend has a serious issue with gluten. It’s not just a diet thing. She can’t have gluten and that’s that. I figured if I’m bringing any food with me it would be best to get as much for her as possible. Who knows when the power and water would be back on.
This is when things got a little crazy.
Have you ever played or seen the first part of the game “The Last of Us” or maybe seen the first scene in the remake of “Dawn of the Dead”?
It was like that but minus the zombies and explosions.
Leaving my house, I rounded a few corners in my Pathfinder and started seeing the chaos of other people reacting to the coming waters. There sure are a lot of people that can’t handle their adrenaline. I watched people drive into ditches from either not paying attention or miscalculating their turns. I watched people wash their cars out from driving too fast in high water. What this means is that when you drive a car in high water–even if the water is just up to your tires–you could push the water up into your radiator, engine, and other equipment, resulting in a stalled car. Living in Louisiana, you should know this. Driving in high water? Slow the fuck down.
Plan A was to go up Pete’s Highway in a straight shot to my girl’s apartment.
No go. Pete’s Highway was already closed off with High Water signs up.
Okay, Plan B.
Plan B was to go up Range Ave. In going to Range Ave I saw a guy walking down the street with a suitcase, no car, by himself, walking to a motel. I have no idea what would come of that guy because that motel would eventually get completely submerged.
Plan B was a no go, too. Alright, Plan C.
Plan C was to go up 190 to Juban Rd then take a short cut around and back to Range Ave.
No luck again. Juban was fine but the shortcut was washed out. Okay, I’m getting closer though. I doubled back to the interstate, and got back on to Range Ave–circling around the high water. I watched cars attempt to leave the interstate but the high water was literally washing them off the road and into a ditch. Luckily, my Pathfinder could take it. I slowly drove through the water, got back on to Range and made a straight shot to my girl’s apartment complex.
Once there, things seemed fine for us. However, the adjacent apartment complex had taken a lot of water since they were on lower ground. The flood water was already up half way into the first floor. People were escaping and being rescued via air mattresses. The elderly were calling for help through their windows. People were taking refuge on their roofs.
I was at the Boardwalk Place Apartments in Denham Springs, LA. It was myself, my girlfriend Brooke, and her son Cameron. We still had electricity unlike some of the other people around us. But that only lasted till about 6pm.
The sun was still up, allowing us to finally see the flood waters entering our apartment complex. We were located towards the back of the complex and that’s where the flood waters started to seep in. Once we saw how fast the water was rising we, and the rest of the tenants, began moving the cars up onto the curb. We would later find out that it was a useless effort. Every single car in the entire parking lot got water up to their seats.
Just before dusk, the water had gotten so high that no one was able to drive out. With that, I decided to try and walk out on foot to see if the Carter’s Grocery store or Wal-Mart were still open.
Off I went, just myself and Cameron wading out of the apartment complex in water up to our thighs. We had backpacks on to stuff with supplies…if we could find them.
We made it out to Vincent Rd and walked to the nearest Wal-Mart–a store that was about half a mile away from the apartments. What I found was a parking lot full of people already camping out. There were a few RVs, campers, cars, and people sleeping at the store’s entrance. It was a makeshift shelter. People were using shopping carts as forts to shield themselves from the sun. But Wal-Mart wasn’t open.
This Wal-Mart would eventually become the meeting ground for people wanting to evacuate. All the people saved from their homes and apartments would be shipped there and await evac from the National Guard.
Since Wal-Mart was closed, the other options were the Cracker Barrel gas station across the street (closed), the Dollar General store down the street by another half mile (closed), and the Walgreens clear on the opposite direction by another mile (closed). So, it was Saturday morning and nothing was open. No surprise, but it was worth a try. Walking back I went up to the Carter’s Grocery store and got as many soft drinks out of the Coke machine that I could. With that I had about $155 left in cash.
Around 10pm the flood water swelled past the curb, into the grass, and then began getting into the first floor apartments, and by this time it was too late to leave for even the largest truck with the biggest tires. The entrance to the apartment complex was on lower ground. If you were to walk through it, the flood water would be up to your waist. The only way in or out at this point was by boat.
And then the power finally went off; the water turned off. No more AC; no more using the bathroom or shower. Not only had the water begun entering the first floor apartments, it was now covering the air conditioning units and power transformers around the corners.
Last we heard, the river would crest at 1am. This meant that at 1am the water would be at its highest point. After that, it would be just a matter of waiting to see how fast it went back down.
That was a rough first night in the heat. If you’ve never been to Louisiana you should know that we have what is called a sub-tropical environment. It’s very humid all the time. This is especially dangerous during the winter. If, on the odd chance, it snows the water on all the streets turns to ice. Yes, there’s a difference in snow up in the North and down in the South. That being said, the heat and humidity is a fucking misery to try and sleep in. Not only that, but the flood water was still rising and now was entering into the cars. Once the water got inside the cars then it got into the electronics. That set off a lot of car alarms. Not only was it setting off car alarms but it was setting off fire alarms in some of the first floor apartments. So, without the owners around to shut them off we had to try and sleep with a cacophony of alarms going off, plus the heat and humidity…oh, and the worry that all you had worked for had been washed away.
Saturday morning I woke up and looked down at the water to see that it was at the same level it had been at since 1am. I was judging this level by looking at where it had reached on a few of the car bumpers. Now, in my head I was remembering the flood of Houston, TX and how the flood water there seemed to stick around for a while.
This got me worried.
My girlfriend didn’t have a lot of food in the house. After all, it was the weekend when you usually do your grocery shopping. When this all started to go down, the grocery stores were choked with people. When I was fleeing the city there were lines of people out the grocery store doors. If we ran to the store to get food we were likely to get stuck there. And that’s not a joke.
It’s called a flash flood for a reason. I remember the Thursday before hearing about how it was going to rain all weekend. The Friday comes around and all I heard was that the river was going to flood and homes by the river were likely to get flooded. It was Saturday morning that I found out that not just the houses by the river were going to flood, but the whole city.
Saturday morning, I put on my shorts, shoes, and tank top and decided to walk/wade out of the apartment complex to see if anything was open yet.
That’s part of what’s great about a Capitalist system. In situations like this, the one merchant open gets all the business. If you’re able to open your store then open it as early and as soon as you can. I knew someone had to be open. I knew someone was going to take advantage of the situation. I could see traffic lights far away, and if they were still working, then someone still had power. If someone still had power, they had cash registers.
Wading out of the apartment complex takes a long time. I had to wear shoes because I wasn’t about to stub my toe, get cut, or scratch my foot on a stick. In that gross water? No way. And heading out of the complex I was met with many questions from people sitting on their balconies. Where was I going? What have I heard? I told them I was working on it and I’d let them know.
Outside the apartment complex I found that Vincent Road–the outer road–was lined with cars on both sides of the street and in the middle turning lane…with people in them. Yes, there were people that were literally trapped in their cars with no where to go. Vincent Rd was cut off on both sides. The only other ways out were Pete’s Hwy (closed off) and Range Ave (closed off). So that was that. All they could do was stay and hang out in their car. For how long? They didn’t know.
Wal-Mart was still closed but I heard a rumor that Cracker Barrel had been open for a while but had closed for restocking. It was worth a shot.
I walked over to the Cracker Barrel gas station and it was indeed open again after a brief restocking period. They were open but they were only taking cash. They were open but with just one employee.
A line was starting to form and I noticed that most of the people were just buying beer.
Really? Beer? Not water, Powerade, energy bars? Beer?
I got the largest styrofoam cooler they had and I put water, Powerade, energy bars, and anything gluten-free I could find, i.e., Cheerios, beef jerky, fruit, vegetables, mixed nuts, etc.
Hoping that the water would go down by the next day, I got enough for just half my money. Seventy bucks worth of supplies for three people.
I walked back the half mile through the water to drop off the food and water and went straight back out to see if there was any other options available to me. I figured that if things got really bad I could walk the 6 miles back to my house to get cranberry juice, lemonade, more food, and things like that. Even if my house was ruined most of the bottled Snapple, Cokes, and purified water I have for my morning coffee would be okay. It’d take a while to do, but I could do it.
That was when I saw the state of Range Ave.
It was now a river. Not only in volume but in rushing current.
The flow of the water washing over Range Ave was pretty strong. Strong enough to push cars out of the way, knock down fences, and smash car windshields with the debris it carried. It was significant. And when I saw this I knew that there was no way I could simply walk to my house. It would take an entire day just to walk/swim there and even if I got there I’d have to get back into the same environment.
The plan was to check the status of Range the next day and see how far the water went down. If the water level stays the same, then I’m swimming or hitching a ride on a boat; if the water drops significantly, then I wait out another day and can probably drive out the following day.
The remainder of the afternoon and evening was pretty much sitting on the balcony formulating plans. I’ve been married once before in my life, but only for six months; I’ve never had children, and never wanted children. However, this was the first time I felt that crushing dread that I had to do something proactive, smart, and calculated to make sure that everyone was safe, fed, and hydrated. It was the first time I was thinking about someone else besides me. I wasn’t going to let the situation get to the point where we were forced out of the apartment to go to a shelter.
About those shelters…
I was hearing that the Satsuma shelter was already running out of water, blankets, food, and volunteers. Why go to a shelter and be in a huge room with tons of people with their pets on cots? All the noise, confusion, and lack of supplies. I feel that we would’ve been worse off. No, play this smart.
Wait till first light next morning and go find more food and water again.
By this time, most of the people that were still around in the apartments had banded together and pooled their meat resources. The community grills were still available so why let all the meat in the freezer go to waste? It was a great idea. Cameron went to this get-together and brought back sausage and hamburger patties for us. It was a nice dinner for the night and we even kept a bit for the next night as well.
It was another miserable night though. Car alarms were still randomly going off, and there was still that ever present beeping of the fire alarms in some of the buildings. With so many people evacuating, these alarms were going off until the car batteries died. So all night long all we had to listen to were car alarms and fire alarms. If I got two or three hours of sleep I would be over estimating.
Well, when the first light came through the curtains I was up and ready. I put on the same pair of shorts, shoes, and my same old dirty shirt and set off once again.
When I looked down from the balcony I saw a sickening sight. The water hadn’t moved from the day before. It might have receded a tiny bit from the bumpers I was looking at, but too little to tell. This was bad news. There was no telling how long this water would be standing here.
This whole time I was saving my phone’s battery. I would turn it on to check messages and Facebook but then turn it off again. This is why I have a lack of photos. The one thing I saw on Facebook, however, was a report on why the water hadn’t gone down yet. It was a little thing called “backflow.” The water simply had no where to go. And there it sat. This really got me worried. How long would we have to wait for this water to recede? What if Cracker Barrel ran out of food and water, too? How long till power and water was restored? Where would we go for a bathroom?
Well, I’ll worry about that later. It was first light so I hiked out of the apartments yet again. Another half mile trek out of the water covered parking lot that, at this point, was up to my waist once I got to the gate.
I got to Vincent Rd again and saw that the cars were still there, people were still in them, and nothing had moved. Elderly people were being fanned by their loved ones and passing out from the prolonged heat exposure. Dogs and cats were now stray and foraging for food. People had abandoned their neighborhoods and set up game-day tents on the side of the road. And there were some good people out and about as well. I saw one young girl offer her water to a couple with a dog. She asked them if their dog had eaten yet and if they had been giving it water. It was just a long road of this type of scenery. To my surprise though, Cracker Barrel was open again. And since it was early morning, the line was very small.
This was it, my last chance probably. I got my backpack and ice chest and loaded it up with everything I could find. I told the cashier that I only had 75 dollars left so just ring up everything she could (gluten free first) and leave off the rest.
And that was it, I was tapped out on cash.
However, guess what, the doughnut shop right next door had opened…and they were taking credit cards. Donuts and gluten go together though, so it wasn’t an ideal choice for my girlfriend. But they had kolaches. And that had protein. Cameron and I needed that protein so I bought all the kolaches they had plus a dozen glazed donuts to hopefully last us the day. And with all the water, Powerade, donuts, kolaches, protein power bars, and gluten free breakfast bars, I headed back.
I dropped off the “breakfast” and once again headed back out to see if the Walgreens was open…also to check on the status of Range Ave.
Well, Walgreens wasn’t open but the water on Range Ave had receded quite a bit. Almost a quarter of a mile to be exact. That was great news. The water was sitting with us at the apartments because it had no where really to drain, but Range was looking good. I figured we could go one more day and then I could drive to my house, get what food and drinks I had and make it back. One more day, we could do that.
And so another day of waiting began.
We watched as the water slowly began to recede. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and looking down from the balcony to see a faint shadow of the grass that could now be seen beneath the river water. And by the morning light the water had receded even more down to the curb.
Once I was sure that I would be able to drive out of the water I put on the old shorts, shoes and shirt and went out to my Pathfinder to see if it would start.
The water had gotten up to the seats and I was afraid that the water had gotten into the oil and transmission. I popped the hood and did the test to see if water had gotten in. Thankfully, the oil and transmission fluid looked fine. I cranked the motor and the ole Pathfinder fired right up. So I drove it to a more shallow part of the parking lot to blow out the water in the tail pipe. Everything was going ok so far, and all that was left was to go visit my house and get what I needed.
Indeed the water had receded enough for me to drive out but I was criminally low on gas. I was cursing myself for not bringing enough food with me, not bringing a second gun, and not getting gas the night before.
I texted a friend to ask her where she got gas the day before. When I got there the gas station was closed down but the one down the street still had some Plus level gas. Now that that was out of the way I could head back to my house and see what kind of shock I was in for.
My house got about three feet of water inside of it.
All of my furniture was ruined. A lot of my CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, were ruined. My book shelves had fallen down and lots of my hardcover books were ruined. I knew it would take a very long time to clean it all up.
But, it’s all about taking it one day at a time and one task at a time. Focusing on the enormity of the situation is just depressing and overwhelming. I have to start over on a lot of things, but what are you gonna do?
Brooke, Cameron, and I are all safe and doing fine now.
As the week went on I got a lot of help from some very good people. Family members I hadn’t seen in some 15 years showed up to help me–and they brought friends to help them. Cameron’s dad–Brooke’s ex-husband–even showed up to help me. It was a tremendous showing of good will and I can’t thank him enough.
People I work with and people that I’ve worked with in the past came by to help me out as well. It was just a great feeling to see all the people stepping up and coming out to help me in this awful time. How do you repay people like that? I don’t know. Maybe just be a better friend and person to them in the future, I guess.
While working in my yard and on my house people would drive by just to make sure I had water and food. I didn’t know these people, they just offered assistance to be kind. While driving down Range Ave I saw Drago’s Restaurant set up a makeshift drive thru by a flood damaged bank. They were giving away free food to everyone. So if you read this, support Drago’s. Support any business, church, youth group, volunteer organization, etc. that has done something to go out of their way to help those in need.
Sure, there are some shitty people out there right now, looting people’s belongings and taking advantage of the situation. But those people are few and far between. I’ve seen far more good than bad.
And in the end, maybe that’s the best thing that came out of this. I have a different outlook on people and what they’re capable of in trying times. What kind of person do I want to be? The kind that preys off the wounded, the kind that stands idly by, or the kind that makes the world a better place.
After all this, my girlfriend has set up a GoFundMe page for me. I thought I had flood insurance on the contents of my house. Turns out I only have insurance on the dwelling. The GoFundMe page is in hope that I can get some cash together to buy a mattress and boxspring, hopefully even a washer and dryer.
Thanks for reading
My GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/2ke25rx8