Historic flooding in Louisiana has changed region forever, many say

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Bachman, Reuters

By Richard Meek

ROUGE, La. (CNS) — Water lapped at the heels of Father Michael Galea, steady
rain an arduous reminder of Mother Nature’s unfinished business.

With a
sadness in his voice, Father Galea, pastor at Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant,
estimated that as many as 90 percent of his parishioners were impacted during
the recent historic flooding that touched nearly every corner of the Diocese of
Baton Rouge.

going to change the whole dynamic of Holy Rosary as a parish as we know it,” Father
Galea told The Catholic Commentator, the diocesan newspaper. “It’s not going to
be the same. And we are going to lose quite a bit of people if they choose to
move away.

hopefully with love and compassion and a lot of hugs we can become a family all
over again. That is what is most important is for us to be together again.”

together as a family, whether it is a community, church parish or simply a
family dinner, is a question many are asking in the wake of the floods that in
some area dumped 20 inches of rain in as many hours. The carnage is stunning.

Central, it is estimated 27,000 out of 28,000 people were impacted, leaving
some to speculate if the suburban community will be able to recover.

Livingston Parish, a civil jurisdiction, at least 75 percent of residents
suffered some type of water damage, with most of the destruction major.
Residents in the civil jurisdictions of East Baton Rouge, Ascension and
Tangipahoa parishes also were forced to dig out.

Much of
Zachary was damaged, as the wide swath of destruction seems endless. In the
aftermath many residential streets appeared to be mere passes surrounded by
mountains of debris. And the stench permeates one’s pores, a smell that
eventually subsides but never leaves.

were closed, many for weeks, and businesses were struggling to reopen. Curfews
were enacted in civil parishes throughout to lessen the threat of looting in
the impacted areas.

estimates are as high as 100,000 homes damaged, with thousands fleeing to
evacuation shelters. The floodwaters claimed 13 lives, and many others survived
only after being rescued from their rooftops, reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina
11 years ago.

“We were
straight up survival mode,” said Tim Hasenkampf, a Baton Rouge fireman who
lives in Port Vincent and lost his house because of flooding.

been tough,” added Hasenkampf, who along with his friend spent hours in their
private boats rescuing people from their homes in the area.

to Joe Ingraham, chief financial officer for the Baton Rouge Diocese, six
churches took on water and the parish schools at two of those also were
damaged. Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, which opened in August,
was inundated with 4 feet of water and has to relocate.

the damage was widespread and costly, Ingraham managed to see the silver lining
in the storm clouds that blanketed the area for nearly a week.

could have been worse, when you see four churches out of 71 severely damaged,”
Ingraham said. “The worst thing is the damage to our parishioners and their

He said
St. Alphonsus and Immaculate Conception were the most severely damaged, each
with likely at least $1 million in damage. Those two churches along with St.
Anne and Holy Rosary each had flood insurance for up to $500,000 per building, Ingraham

St. Anthony and St. Jean Vianney did not have flood insurance because they were
in areas that previously had never experienced any type of flooding, they are
covered under a policy through the diocese.

storm, which first began to unleash its nearly weeklong fury Aug. 12, packed a
one-two wallop that drove water into areas that had never experienced flooding.
Initially, torrential rains from the slow-moving system initially caused street
flooding, which also forced water into homes.

But the
greater damage came in the days that followed as area rivers overflowed their
banks and flowed unfettered into neighborhoods, businesses and even major

At one
point, Interstates 10 and 12, the two main arteries in and out of Baton Rouge,
were closed. Along I-12, some motorists were trapped in their cars for more
than 30 hours, presenting a unique opportunity for ministry for Father Jamin
David, pastor at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Albany.

surveying the 20 acres encompassing the parish grounds, Father David’s focus
shifted to the stranded motorists, who were without food, water or even a

opened up our facilities to everyone,” Father David said. “It became a
humanitarian effort. Really,
it was the multiplication of the fishes.”

He said
one stranded motorist was a caterer initially headed to Abita Springs, less
than 40 miles from Albany. The caterer asked if she could use the parish’s
stove to cook the food she had with her so it would not go to waste.

opened up the kitchen and fed about 500 people,” Father David said, adding that
the 20 acres around St. Margaret were fine but many of their parishioners have
suffered major flooding.

Even as
the waters continued to rise, donations, in the form of cash, clothes, gift
cards, cleaning supplies and other necessities began to filter in from all over
the world. On Aug. 23, the Knights of Columbus donated $200,000 to the diocese
and another $30,000 to the Knights’ Louisiana State Council.

In an
ironic twist, a tractor-trailer from the University of Alabama dropped off a
truckload of supplies at the Catholic Charities Diocese of Baton Rouge’s

for Patients, a Louisiana-based volunteer pilot organization, flew in three
Cessna planes loaded with supplies for the diocese to distribute.

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Meek is
editor and general manager of The Catholic Commentator, newspaper of the
Diocese of Baton Rouge.

– – –

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