As we enter this weekend, I am reminded of the biggest flood in Louisiana history, the Great Flood of 2016. Our small corner of the world was pummeled with massive amounts of rainfall at the end of the week of August 12, 2016, followed by devastating flooding in 20 parishes as the water flowed south through rivers, creeks and bayous. By August 15, more than ten rivers (Amite, Vermilion, Calcasieu, Comite, Mermentau, Pearl, Tangipahoa, Tchefuncte, Tickfaw and Bogue Chitto) and many more had reached a moderate, major, or record flood stage. One word that seems to describe what Louisiana experienced – HISTORIC. The thunderstorms rolled in on that Thursday and didn’t leave until Saturday. It simply settled in one spot and didn’t move, causing record rainfall and flooding of creeks, bayous and rivers. My small town of Zachary received nearly 30 inches over the course of 2 days. According to one report, this “no name storm” dropped the equivalent of 7.1 trillion gallons of water or enough to fill Lake Pontchartrain about four times. Now, wrap your mind around that.
What did that mean for Cypress Bayou Farm? We are in a flood zone and have seen serious flooding already in the short time we have lived here. We expected a lot of rain but we were never prepared for what was to come that weekend. We didn’t have a set plan in place for our animals or us for that matter because we had NO IDEA it would be that bad. We soon figured it out as the waters rose hour by hour.
On Friday, August 12, 2016, I awoke for work and realized I couldn’t leave my house because my street was flooded. I watched school buses pass by slowly in the high water and couldn’t imagine my Honda Pilot making it through the flood waters. Friday was by far the longest day of my life. The rain continued hour after hour without ceasing. We watched the bayou rise in the back of the pasture. Various roof leaks began to appear as the deluge continued over Zachary. Our main concern was the Comite River because our Indian Bayou drains into that river. And if we couldn’t catch a break in the weather, our bayou couldn’t drain properly and if the river overflowed, we were in serious trouble. The weather forecast was very grim. The National Weather Service predicted the Comite River to crest overnight Saturday around 32 feet which would be 1½ feet higher than the record set in 1953 and more than 2 feet higher than in 1983. The flood of 1983 damaged thousands of homes, causing millions of dollars worth of damage in East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes. Most people talk about the flood of 1983 and we were facing a flood much worse than that.
I have never prayed so much in my life as I did over the course of that weekend. Praying for God’s protection, praying for the rain to stop, praying for the waters to recede, praying for my strength to get through what lay before us, praying for inner peace, praying for families everywhere facing the flood, praying, praying, praying.
As I watched the water from Indian Bayou creep into our pasture, into our barn and surround our home, emergency plans for our animals began to take place. Our barn was taking in water quickly and Sparkle, Nibbles and Nacho needed higher ground soon. After Andrew helped rescue our neighbor’s cows that were trapped in the back pasture with the rising bayou, Andrew walked Sparkle to our neighbor’s front pasture.
Watching Andrew walk Sparkle down our street, through the flood waters to safety, touched my heart in a way I will never forget. We were in a state of uncertainty, not knowing how bad the flooding would be for us. But, Sparkle trusted that Andrew would take care of her and keep her out of danger. I reflected back on the day when we first rescued her and brought her to our farm. You can read about it here. She has come such a long way since then and she walks with strength and confidence now.
It finally reached a point where Nibbles and Nacho would be swimming to stay afloat in their pen. To our surprise, they both happily jumped into the large dog kennel we prepared for them, with no arguing at all. I think they realized it was a “do or die” situation.
Since our home is on piers, we figured the front porch was the safest place for the boys to stay. If that went under, well, we would plan a pig roast sooner than we thought.
We were then able to move our vehicles to our neighbor’s house across the street which sits atop a large hill, out of danger from flooding. Once our animals and vehicles were safe, we waited out the storm into the wee hours of Saturday morning still in our home. Around 2:00 a.m., after we each packed a bag and stored valuables on our second floor, we waded through waist deep water and evacuated our home with our 3 dogs in tow. I remember leaving the house feeling a sense of relief rather than sadness. Our lives were more important than the house with Gypsy under my arm, knowing God had his hand on us whether we returned or not. That was the peace I had been praying for all along.
Andrew told me later that he prayed in every single room of our home before he turned off the main breaker and locked up. He left our home believing in God’s protection.
Since we evacuated in the middle of the night, we thought it was best to sleep in the truck with the dogs rather than stress them out in the new environment of our neighbor’s house. After staying up most of the night watching the rising flood waters, we were all able to get some shut eye.
Me and the pooches can snuggle pretty much anywhere, even in the midst of a disaster. Abby James seemed quite comfortable using my toiletry bag as her head rest/eye cover. I found joy in little moments like these during some of the most uncertain times of our life.
Once daylight broke, we were able to see the state of our house and property from the top of the hill.
Our neighbor to the right took in 4-5″ of water in their home and we were VERY CLOSE to having water in our main house. We already knew our store room had 2 feet of water and our barn had 4-5 feet of water but when we awoke, we saw the house was spared from flooding. Even though it was still raining off and on, we noticed the waters receding. You can see the difference in the water level on the piers.
Most of the day Saturday was spent helping others evacuate their homes on our street and cooking for the small community that was forming at our neighbor’s house atop the hill. It was a time when the community came together to help one another. We were all tired, we were all wet from the rain but we were all there for each other, whether to provide shelter, food, a blanket or even a laugh to keep our minds off the dire situation.
We spent another night sleeping in the truck but it was well worth the wait when we opened our eyes to see this beautiful sight.
When we finally returned home, I sat in our dry kitchen and wept with my head in my hands, thanking God for his hand of protection over our home and our lives. We evacuated our home thinking we may not return to the same house, mentally preparing ourselves for the worst circumstances. I am forever grateful as I watch the flooding devastation spread through city after city. Areas flooded that have NEVER flooded before and most do not have flood insurance.
For those who don’t live in Louisiana and may not realize how the flood affected us, here is drone footage of my town of Zachary from the Great Flood of 2016. My street is right off the main drag shown in this video:
Although we were hit hard, the devastation of this flood hit many others, affecting 20 different parishes – East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, Acadia, Ascension, Avoyelles, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Pointe Coupee, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Tammany, Vermilion, Washington and West Feliciana. 40,000 people were rescued and 13 confirmed people lost their life in this historic flooding. In addition to people, thousands of pets were rescued and some lost as well. In the end, an approximate 146,000 homes were damaged in this flood, marking it the worst US natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The drone footage below is shocking and devastating. I never thought I would see destruction like this in my lifetime. During times like these, it is hard to wrap your head around what is happening to your state and its people.
Even with total devastation all around, the people of Louisiana rallied together and began their own relief efforts. Not only did I witness rescues first hand on my road but we have heard countless stories of civilians bringing their own boats to flooded areas to rescue others. The local footage of these rescues is incredible. This large group of volunteers call themselves the “Cajun Navy”. I couldn’t be more proud of my state. I’m not at all surprised that my fellow neighbors are stepping up to the plate to help anyone and everyone they can during this time of need. Welders, fishermen, farmers, lawyers, oil field hands, insurance salesman, house wives, truck drivers, ordinary people, who are being the real heroes. This is Louisiana…we take care of one another here. So much love is here among us, all in the midst of disaster.
WAFB just released a wonderful compilation of harrowing stories and devastating coverage of the 2016 flood titled “Louisiana Rising”. You can watch it here and here. When I watched it, all of the emotions resurfaced and my heart ached for those still in the process of rebuilding their lives.
I certainly count my blessings and as we endure rain for the second week in a row this week, I thank the skies above we aren’t going through another great flood. One thing I know for sure is our emergency animal plan needs to be kicked up a notch now that we have added another a horse, 2 turkeys, and 20 chickens since our last big flood!