Saturday, August 20, 2016

At water's edge, southern

LAFAYETTE, La. — Roland Delahoussaye and friends can claim this much in the face of widespread calamity: They beat back a flood.

A berm behind a nearby town home complex in Lafayette appeared to fail last weekend and the Vermilion River topped a seawall next to homes, spilling enough water into River Oaks subdivision to outmatch the city drainage system and send water through the neighborhood.

Last Monday morning, Delahoussaye’s daughter, Angela, sent word on social media: River Road needed sandbags. Help!

By noon, as many as 50 neighbors, family members and even strangers were filling sandbags and lining the river in an effort to beat back a major flood. Flood stage on the Vermilion is 10 feet; the river was cresting at 17 feet, 6 inches.

On Friday morning, Delahoussaye recounted water stopping an inch from his home. He thanked God, good luck and the National Guard, which had rebuilt the failing berm. About 15 to 20 houses took some water, he said, but catastrophe was averted.


It wasn’t the same for much of the rest of south-central Louisiana, where the flood claimed 13 lives and the ticket for losses is ever climbing.

State officials at midweek estimated 40,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and 11,000 people were in shelters following a 25-inch downpour. By week's end, the Red Cross said, some 32,000 people had stayed at least a night in its shelters. Two-thirds of the shelters had emptied by Friday, but for some Louisianians, rescue from the floods had placed them squarely in the crosshairs of desperation. Where to go?

In Lafayette Parish alone, flooded or damaged homes approached 2,000. Neighboring St. Martin, Iberia and Vermilion parishes, also beset by flood water, were totaling up their toll.

Farther east, state officials suggested 75% of the homes in East Baton Rouge Parish and some 90% of the homes in adjoining Livingston Parish were flooded or damaged. Mike Steele, spokesman for the Governor’s Office for Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness, said Friday that the hard work of closely accounting for the damage began in earnest Thursday, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency hit the ground.


Louisiana’s difficulty resulted from an unnamed low-pressure system that formed about two weeks ago off of Florida’s “Big Bend,” near Apalachee Bay, and lumbered west. From Aug. 11-13, the system hovered over a swath of territory stretching from Pike County, Miss., westward to Louisiana’s Mermentau River.

What resulted, National Weather Service forecasters said, was an intense rainfall aided by a deep, tropical moisture. In some places, rain fell at the rate of about 3 inches per hour and, with its grudging, low-pressure movement, produced multiple thunderstorms almost in place. Rainfall ranged from 20-25 inches in the eastern reaches of the affected areas.

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