HITHER AND YON: BRInundated

It turns out that over the weekend, the Baton Rouge area had its own version of Katrina – or at least the part of Katrina that involved wholesale flooding of vast swaths of the metro area.

Baton Rouge didn’t really suffer too much from Katrina’s effects, as that storm passed to the east of the capital city. The main issue in these parts at that time was wind damage to power lines and the resulting outages, which made for a dicey week or two following the storm in some neighborhoods. As to flooding, there was a little – but nothing like what happened in the New Orleans area as a result of the storm surge Katrina carried with it.

No one in Baton Rouge worries about storm surge. The city is too far inland for that.

But as it turns out, flood waters don’t require a storm surge to make themselves present. They don’t even require a named storm.

And the true hell of what happened to Baton Rouge over the weekend was the unexpected nature of the event. This was no hurricane; it carried little wind. There were no tornadoes to speak of. It wasn’t a tropical storm and it didn’t have a name.

All it did was rain.

And while the meteorological community had forecast rain, and lots of it, nobody said Baton Rouge would get almost 30 inches of rain in two days. Nobody would have believed such a forecast if it had been offered.

And yet that’s what the heavens poured on Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas, dropping a 500-year flood on the city and its residents and inflicting destruction on what looks like hundreds of thousands of people – who will now be spending their time haggling with insurance companies, supplicating themselves to FEMA, raiding saving accounts to replace cars, carpeting, baseboards. Mold removal will become a growth industry in town. Used and cheap furniture will become an essential.

The floodwaters are receding, but much of the area north and east of Baton Rouge is still very much under water. It will be for much of this week as the Amite and Comite Rivers swell beyond their banks.

Video of the damage is dramatic.

The flood waters didn’t leave Lafayette unspared, either…

Three people are known dead, and at least 20,000 are known to have been evacuated. Those numbers will likely be much higher before it’s over. Damage will surely run into the billions of dollars.

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It’s not just flooded homes that the Great Flood of 2016 visited upon Louisiana. There is also this…

That photo is of Highway 10 outside of Greensburg, in St. Helena Parish.

There are lots of others. According to the Louisiana Department of Transportation, some 200 roads are closed – including more than 30 incidences of washouts like the one above. Well more than 1,000 bridges will have to be inspected for structural damage before cars can travel across them.

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To offer a human side of Baton Rouge’s travails, over the weekend LSU’s long-time sports radio voice Jim Hawthorne, who’s been enjoying his retirement since signing off for the last time at the end of the school’s basketball season in March, was reported missing as of Saturday night when his cell phone lost service and his Park Forest neighborhood was submerged.

Hawthorne’s cell service is with AT&T. That company’s substation on Choctaw Drive was completely inundated and when it went down it took out thousands of customers.

Thus for almost a day Hawthorne was off the grid. The LSU family was worried sick about him.

But he was home with his wife, watching water creep from the street into his yard and eventually through the front door. He had a foot or two of water in the house when he finally flagged down a boat to take him out of the neighborhood Sunday afternoon…

By Sunday afternoon, Hawthorne said everyone in his neighborhood had evacuated or had gotten out by boat or trucks. The Hawthornes thought they might be facing another night in their dark, wet house hoping the water wouldn’t rise when he heard the high pitched whine of a boat motor.

“I had spent a lot of time standing in thigh deep water in my front yard just listening to boats, but none of them passed our house,” Hawthorne said. “But this one today (Sunday) did and fortunately it wasn’t going real fast.

“I looked out the window, saw waves in my driveway and I told Carol ‘I think that boat just went by the house.’ I jumped out of bed, waded through 15 inches of water in three or four rooms, out the front door and hollered at the boat.

“There were four young men, just strangers in a boat who said they had arrived at midnight and had been saving people all day. They said they were headed out the neighborhood to call it a day when they heard me.”

When the water started rising in Hawthorne’s neighborhood on Saturday, he refused to believe his wife and him were about to get trapped in a full-blown flood.

“It wasn’t raining at the time, there was two to three feet of water in the road and it was creeping into my yard,” Hawthorne said. “While I was wondering where the water was coming from, people were starting to leave. I kept clinging to the idea that this couldn’t happen to me.

“When the water started coming through the door, I finally realized ‘this for real,'” Hawthorne said. “We started taking measures.”

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Speaking of LSU, the football team’s senior kicker Colby Delahoussaye is from the Cajun town of New Iberia – and Delahoussaye spares no effort letting folks know it.

So on Saturday, at the team meeting, Delahoussaye dressed accordingly for the weather…

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