August 31, 2016
Lafayette was hurting. Much of it and the smaller cities and towns all the way to Baton Rouge had been ravaged by a region wrecker named “The Flood of 2016.” I’ve spent some of the best days of my life in Lafayette. To think that the homes of some of the friendliest, most welcoming people I’ve ever met might have been ruined sickened me.
These are the kinds of people who drop everything to pitch in when a friend, even a stranger, needs a hand. After efforts got underway to rescue and find shelter and food for tens of thousands whose homes were flooded, I spent several days trying to digest the extent of the damage. It was overwhelming.
Donating was an option. Showing up was better. This is the kind of thing that you don’t really think about, just a feeling in your gut that says, Get Down There.
Wednesday August 17. After hours of scouring the internet, I find a link to a non-denominational church involved in flood recovery in Lafayette. I call, ask a young lady manning the phones if they can use a ‘skilled grunt laborer.”
“We started gutting houses last week. We meet Monday to Saturday every morning at 9 AM, break into work crews, each with a crew chief. After the meeting, crews head for job sites. We try to do two or three houses a day depending on how much damage they’ve had. We’ve got tools, protective masks, power vacs, wheelbarrows and plenty of water. Someone will bring the crew lunch every day. We work until about 3 PM. Some homes don’t have electricity so we want to have plenty of light to work with. We’re making and delivering food every day to people who’ve lost everything, you can take a job that suits you. We’d love to have you join us.”
Thursday. I call my AAA agent to rent a car.
Friday, a call back from AAA. “Paul, all the cars down there are either underwater or unaccounted for or taken.”
The number for the Hertz counter at the Lafayette Regional Airport is in my phone. I call.
“Hello, I’m flying in tomorrow afternoon, I’ve volunteered to spend a week gutting houses with Our Savior’s Church. The woman I usually work with at Hertz is Della.”
“Well, guess who this is? Paul, I can’t promise you anything. Come to the counter when you arrive, I’ll see what we can do, no promises.”
Saturday 6 PM at the Hertz counter in the airport. Good sign. I recognize Margaret, another woman I’ve worked with there.
“We’ve got a car for you!” she says with a big smile on her face. “And thank you for coming from Boston to help out.”
Margaret gives me a great rate for the VW Jetta and sends me off.
I’m two for two in small miracles. The first is finding a link (out of scores of possibilities online) to Our Savior’s Church, a perfect place for me to work.
The second, the rental car, without which, well, I don’t have to explain that one, do I?
By the time I was driving to my good friends’ home in Lafayette, I knew I was where I wanted to be.
Let’s just say that their offer to take me in for the next eight days was what the Cajuns in southwest Louisiana call lagniappe (an extra gift) that topped off the first two little miracles.
A common scene all around Lafayette, LA after the flood.
Two blocks from my hosts' home in Lafayette: every house on the street was flooded. The homes were built close to a "coulee" ( a drainage canal dug to channel rain water to pumping stations).
There are approximately 1,400 miles of City-Parish roadside open ditches (500 miles along side city streets and 900 miles along side parish roads) in Lafayette. All of them were overwhelmed and over-topped in the deluge.
Fortunately, my hosts' home is far enough away from a nearby coulee so it did not suffer flood damage. But they did lay sand bags in a susceptible area in their back yard and dug a French drain around the perimeter of the foundation. Both ideas prevented water from seeping over the foundation slab and into the house.
Photo by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.