Starting over: Cleaning up Louisiana’s 2016 flood

It’s hard to visualize what happens during a flood unless you see it for yourself.

Perhaps this is why the national news media was slow to pick up the story in Louisiana over the last couple weeks. Watching footage of the flooding or seeing images of it in the newspaper only gives you a surface experience of the disaster.

IMG_1133I didn’t realize how extensive flood damage can be until I experienced it myself. After visiting some of the affected neighborhoods I began to realize just how much damage water can cause.

One home I visited in Baton Rouge had 9 feet of water that flooded into it. The homeowner, who has experienced multiple floods in the area since 1983 said that it was the quickest flooding she has ever experienced.

On the outside, the home appeared perfectly normal. One step inside and it was a drastically different story.


The smell was probably the worst thing about the damage. It was so powerful that it stung my eyes. The combination of sewer water, molding debris and home chemicals were a potent reminder to keep a mask over my mouth and nose on the rare occasions I forgot.

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Not having experienced any kind of flooding myself, I was woefully unprepared to assist in the cleanup. I wore sneakers, shorts and a T shirt leaving my skin bare to the toxic water that dripped from the ceiling and soaked into my shoes.

Everything inside of the home was ruined, at least on the first floor. Couches were soaked through and flipped upside down, an antique sewing machine was barely standing, not a single home appliance was left upright.

The homeowner, “Vallery,” walked through, cleaning what she could. She remained in good spirits, but she could be heard sighing heavily as she walked through each room, pulling out priceless works of art that her own mother painted  from the soggy debris.

It’s hard to visualize what happens during a flood unless you see it for yourself.

An assortment of other household objects were found buried under the ruined sheetrock and water-logged insulation. Sometimes odds and ends were found in unusual places, like a toaster in the living room. How did it get there? Did it float from the kitchen to the living room? These kinds of questions reminded me that the flood, which caught so many off guard, did not wait for the pulse of everyday life to slow down.

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This is the kitchen after a few hours of progress. A path had to be cleared from the kitchen to get anywhere else in the house.

Some of the evacuees I spoke to experienced house fires prior to the the flood. Some had lost loved ones. Others had just bought brand new cars.

The highs and lows of life continued on without any thought of a potential disaster before the first rain began to fall.

Two weeks since the flooding and this pulse is slowly beginning to return to normal. School has resumed, high school football begins soon and the rebuilding is underway.

The amount of work ahead of us is staggering.

I started to feel like we were making progress after we were able to see the floor in the aforementioned home. After putting in a few hours of work and creating a large pile of ruined furniture and debris in the homeowner’s front yard, I felt like the cleanup wouldn’t be so difficult.

But then I realized that our pile of debris in the front yard was only one of about 50 others on a small street in Baton Rouge, a city where thousands of homes have been affected. There are 19 other parishes in South Louisiana that have been affected.

I am hopeful, of course, and I know that the people in Louisiana love to help one another. But after seeing the devastation in person I know that this will not be easy to come back from. The amount of work ahead of us is staggering.

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