This morning I drove out to Denham Springs, in Livingston Parish, where 90 percent of the homes were flooded. I had not been there since the flood, but tried to deliver my older son to a house-gutting crew (had the wrong address, apparently, and didn’t make the connection). My wife, who has already been there, told me, “Nothing you’ve heard prepares you for it.” This is true. I don’t know why it’s true, but it’s true.

We crossed Highway 190 over the Amite River, which caused all the flooding. We kept motoring into Denham, stunned by how high the water line was on businesses, even though we were quite far from the river. You get a real sense for what it means when people say, “It never flooded here before, so we didn’t see this coming.” Start at the riverbank and go east, and you keep going and going and going, and still, there was the water.

Then you turn off into one of the subdivisions, and it looks like a freaky tornado went through. All the insides of people’s houses are there on the curb in giant nasty mounds, taller than a man. But the house stands. It’s as if a twister went through and destroyed everything, but left the frames of the houses. If you think of it that way, you can better understand the magnitude of the destruction. Imagine a tornado had covered the entire state of Massachusetts, and pulled the insides out of every house in the state, but left the frame standing. That’s what we’re talking about in south Louisiana right now.

You don’t really get that sense from seeing still pictures of houses with piles of

Meredith Waguespack

Meredith Waguespack

people’s lives out front, or from watching brief clips of riding down streets showing this. You have to get into those neighborhoods and start driving, and driving, and driving. It’s the same thing, for miles in most directions.

Getting out there, I understood the irreplaceable value of the Cajun Navy. The water rose so fast that there was no way for many people to get out in time, or even to know that it was coming. Without the men of the Cajun Navy, the suffering of the people would have been immeasurably greater, as there was simply no way for public officials and first responders to get to everybody in time. The area of the disaster was simply too vast, and the speed with which it was upon us gave no time to prepare for rescues.

On the way back to Baton Rouge, I stopped by SFT, a local t-shirt maker, to pick up some Cajun Navy t-shirts. Meredith Waguespack (left) designed them and sells them online. You can buy one here. She says that $15 from every one sold goes to flood relief through the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s fund to restore the Baton Rouge Food Bank, which was nearly wiped out by the flood. It’s a great way to celebrate the strength of Louisiana and its people, and to restore a local agency that feeds the hungriest in our city. Meredith says they’ve already raised $30,000 for the Food Bank through the online sale of these t-shirts.

I’m headed to Nashville tonight to the ERLC meeting, and will be proudly wearing my Cajun Navy t-shirt, and telling anybody who asks about the heroism and dedication of these men to our community.