The Flood of 2016 (photo of Lafayette, LA, from the air August 20, 2016)
I returned last night after a week volunteering with Our Savior's Church, a non-denominational church in Lafayette, LA, gutting houses damaged by what is now called The Flood of 2016. Areas of some parishes (counties) are still under water.
Chances are you don’t know much about this under-reported disaster.
- From August 11 to August 13 a massive weather system dropped the equivalent of 7.1trillion gallons of water over Louisiana from Baton Rouge to Lafayette.
- Over 146,000 homes were damaged or ruined.
- At least 30,000 people were rescued from cars and homes by local law enforcement and volunteers (informally known as the Cajun Navy) manning boats over the flooded areas.
- More than 11,000 were forced into state-operated shelters.
- In one of the 20 parishes (counties) affected, it is estimated that 75% of homes were “a total loss”.
- Thirteen died in the flooding.
- 1,400 pets have since been rescued from the deluge
- Because many of the areas that flooded were not in "high flood risk areas", the majority of homeowners affected by the flood did not have flood insurance.
- As of August 19, losses were estimated at $20.7 billion
Virtually every aspect of life in 20 parishes has been affected: agriculture, schools, police and fire departments, commerce and businesses, roads and highways, public transit, hospitals, government offices and services. Thousands are hurting, displaced, have no place to live, and still in shock.
Why did I go?
Lafayette is one of the most unique cultural areas I've experienced. I love to dance. The music is exceptionally diverse and exceptionally well-played by musicians who, for the most part, were born and raised here. The grub is a foodie's dream. For a dancer, Lafayette and surrounding cities and towns are paradise.
But what sets it apart from anywhere else I've ever visited is the people who live here. They are friendly, outgoing, proud of their heritage, and over the eight years I've visited, have made a Yankee like me feel welcome, introduced me to their friends, and invited me to their barbecues. That's just the way they are.
They may not share the same politics with each other or me, but when someone needs help, they show up.
I wanted to give something back to this special place and these special people that have given me so much.
As I worked with crews from Our Savior Church, I saw the faces of men and women whose material lives are now on the roadside in front of their homes in a mountainous pile of debris dragged outside their gutted homes.
Time is of the essence. Mold is the enemy. When moisture remains inside a home, mold begins growing within 24-48 hours. When our crew chiefs detected water/moisture in or behind sheet rock, insulation, ceiling and floor moldings, floor coverings, wall coverings, furniture, kitchen cabinets and counters, and bathroom vanities, we tore them out.
The week I worked was the last one in which we could enter with only an N-95 approved face-mask that filters out mold spores. The home we gutted on Thursday and Friday August 25, 26 had visible mold growing inside. Our crew chief said homes that had not been gutted and aired out would be overcome by mold and have to be quarantined. Work done after that needs to be done by people wearing Hazmat suits and respirators.
As for me, considering I found a link to Our Savior's Church in Lafayette after searching for hours online, and that it offered me a perfect opportunity to volunteer with them, it’s probably not an exaggeration to say there were a few small miracles involved. This church was one of the best organized, well-led organizations leading the charge to support an entire parish in crisis. I’ll get to that in the next post.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.