I’m not sure where that map came from, and if any of you know, please tell me so I can credit the source. It appeared on Facebook tonight. [UPDATE: A reader points out that it’s a standard flood-zone map issued by the state, to indicate areas prone to flooding. It is NOT a map of the current flooding. I’m going to look for one of those, but with this caveat, I’ll leave this here because chances are the actual map of current conditions is much worse, given that everywhere prone to flooding has already flooded, and some places that have never flooded are underwater.] It shows the flooded parts of the City of Baton Rouge. Please understand that this is only Baton Rouge. The flooding is much more widespread than you see here. For example, 90 percent of the city of Denham Springs, pop. 10,148, just to our east, is underwater. To give you a sense of how abnormal this is, in normal times, there’s no blue on this map.
Fortunately for me and my family, we are living on one of the “islands” on the map, nowhere near the water. We are not threatened. But none of it is very far away, and everybody knows somebody who has lost their house.
East Baton Rouge public schools are closed until further notice. Students had only been back in school for a week or so, but still, all the public schools in a city of 230,000 are closed indefinitely because of the flooding. I was talking today with a journalist friend from a national media source who is in the city to cover the flooding. She was speculating on the catastrophic economic impact this is going to have on Louisiana, a state that’s already poor, and whose state government is struggling with an enormous budget deficit.
My friend and former Dallas Morning News colleague Jacquielynn Floyd wants to know why the national media have been so slow to notice the magnitude of what’s been happening down here. Excerpt:
“I think it’s been a kind of ‘Hey, what about us?’ moment,” said David Wyld, a management professor at Southeastern Louisiana University. David and his wife, both Dallas-area natives, said their home in Hammond – about a half-hour east of Baton Rouge – is safe, but they’re shocked by the gravity of the crisis.
“It’s continuing to be a kind of rolling tragedy,” he said. “This has really been surreal.”
Wyld, who takes a thoughtful view of how public attention and popular media function and intersect, said he believes it was sheer bad luck that the disaster – an unprecedented rain deluge and fast-rising flood waters – struck late last week. A lot of us were distracted by the bizarre presidential campaign, and by the Olympic games, he said.
And then, he observed shrewdly, there’s the fact that this is a Storm With No Name.
“It’s not Katrina. It’s not a tropical storm; it doesn’t have a name,” he said. It’s just water – rising, spreading, devastating, stranding cars, homes, communities.
As some of you readers commented to me over the weekend, if not for this blog, you would have had no idea this was happening. A Facebook friend of mine here writes:
I’ve heard that the national media isn’t doing a very good job of getting across exactly how devastated Louisiana is right now.
Listen, we know floods. We are very familiar with water and storms. We’re not faint of heart, and we are not crying wolf here. At least twenty thousand people have been rescued, and over 500 pets. More people than not have water in their homes, and this spreads throughout almost the entirety of south Louisiana.
I can’t begin to put an image in anyone‘s mind, but it’s apocalyptic. There’s water everywhere. Makeshift shelters are filled. People were trapped on an interstate, some for a full day. 62 miles of that same interstate is closed and may end up being destroyed from the water. Two other major interstates here are flooded at places and may also cause severe damage.
People are still being rescued and still trapped. Houses being picked up off their foundation. Water is still flowing. Tens of thousands of people are affected by this, even before more floodwaters rose. Yesterday we witnessed water rise a foot in thirty minutes. We witnessed people break their backs to sandbag and save their homes who lost it in the end anyway.
The other thing is, this flood has gotten into so many homes of people who don’t have flood insurance. These people were told they didn’t need the insurance, and here they are. This is unprecedented. People are finding out by the movement of the water in an instant that they have to leave their home and just do it and walk away.
There are caskets floating in the water. There are helicopters overhead. Fire stations are flooded. There are gas leaks. Cell service has been down, and water boil advisories are in place all over. 911 has been down at times. Schools across the board are flooded, and no one knows when they will be able to go back. In addition to direct impact from the flood, friends are getting robbed, cards are being stolen.
I know I’ve left details out, but I just want my friends here who don’t know to have some information. We’re very heartbroken here, and we will be devastated for some time to come. All I can say now is that I’m completely in awe of the people here. Complete loyalty to family, friends, and strangers alike. Zero hesitation to risk yourself for another. As broken as this situation is, the people are just as resilient and loving and giving. How would we ever get through without a village?
And as I type this, it’s raining again.
Right now I’m thinking about the weary woman, maybe in her early 60s, Lucas and I saw yesterday walking toward the Costco parking lot next to the Celtic Media Center shelter on Sunday morning. She was all alone, and looked dazed.
“Lucas, that lady is wearing a bathrobe,” I said.
“Dad, she’s wearing pajamas under it.”
There you are in your house one night, and it’s raining. The next morning it’s full of water, and you’re being pulled to safety by men in boats or by soldiers in a rescue chopper, and you’re walking on the shoulder of the road by a Costco wearing nothing but your pajamas and your bathrobe. It has happened just that quickly to thousands and thousands of people here.
Remember my telling you about Thomas Achord, the young teacher of ancient Greek at Sequitur Classical Academy here in Baton Rouge? He’s the guy who wrote the beautiful Facebook comment I featured here on Sunday, about how much a disaster like this makes him realize how much he loves Louisiana. He’s part of the unofficial Cajun Navy, the ragtag but huge number of Louisiana men with boats who hit the water to save people. These men are the very best of Louisiana, and of America. Nobody told them to do it. They went, because that’s what men like them do. This is going around social media down here. It’s not bragging if it’s true:
Thomas wrote on Facebook today:
Came across three stranded people who were near their barn sitting on their horses with another five horses standing around, in about 6 feet of water. They wanted to ride em to safety but didn’t know the way, so I tied the boat to the train and we rode horses through the flood to dry ground.
This is the Greek teacher at a Baton Rouge classical Christian high school doing this in his bass boat. He’s been at it for days, even though his own house, though not flooded, is on a de facto island. That is some serious south Louisiana greatness. And the thing is, there are hundreds and hundreds of men just like him doing the same thing right now, though I hear that the Army National Guard is now discouraging them, and trying to professionalize the rescue.
But you don’t have to man a bass boat to serve your neighbor, not here in the Great State, baby:
Some of you have been asking how you can help. Well, you could send your beautiful women to deliver tequila to us, but failing that, the Times-Picayune has a guide to a number of area charities doing relief work. A friend and reader of this blog is in administration at the Baton Rouge General hospital. He says that about one-third of the hospital’s employees are flooded out — and still, if they can get to the hospital, they’re showing up. They’re struggling to keep the hospital staffed. I am sure other city hospitals are suffering the same thing. I saw a photo yesterday of the big Ochsner hospital on the far east side. It was an island, cut off from everything around it. I don’t know how it’s doing today.
My friend, a member of this blog’s reader community, said the General has set up a fund for cash assistance for its flooded employees and their families. If you want to donate, go to brgeneral.org/donate, click the “Other” button where it asks you where you want your contribution directed, and in the text box, write “Great Flood.” Your money will go directly to Baton Rouge General employees affected by the flooding.
Someone from Louisiana named Emily Davenport has taken Randy Newman’s iconic song about an earlier epic flood, “Louisiana 1927”, and used it as background to a slide show of images from what we’re dealing with now. You watch this if you can. I couldn’t get through the first two lines without breaking down.
Help us if you can. Believe me, we are helping ourselves, but the need is so great, and will be with us for so long.
UPDATE: Now this here is love and honor. I’m serious. It would be like if the Hatfields pledged to help out the McCoys. SEC solidarity! (H/T: Leslie Fain):
In Livingston Parish alone, the sheriff says estimates 100,500 people lost everything. The scope of the damage is almost incomprehensible .
— Brett Buffington (@BrettBuffington) August 16, 2016