We went to see for ourselves, and this is our report. Media accounts used the phrase "some flooding" to describe the passing of the hurricane, thus we were unprepared for the level of destruction we found in the otherwise orderly town of LaPlace, Louisiana. Hurricane Issac's assault on the gulf coast was feverishly documented by national media, however as the storm roared ashore on August 29th, reporting emphasis was on a fearful New Orleans . And so it appears that although New Orleans was spared yet another apocalyptic deluge (and we are thankful it was spared), that the news worthiness of Louisiana's continuing tragedy was somehow diminished in the eyes of media decision makers. Louisiana's story virtually disappeared from national news.
We saw whole subdivisions, both single family and apartment dwellings rendered uninhabitable, thousands having been driven from their homes to find refuge who knows where. Many of these homes will be lost to infectious mold despite the best efforts of homeowners and volunteers to clean them out. Local St. John's Parrish authorities have arranged for debris removal and increased police presence to discourage looting, but their capabilities are severely limited. Surviving residents recounted that expectations for government assistance are fading quickly. Time and again we heard residents ask why their area was suddenly flooded when that had never been a problem before. The levees in New Orleans had apparently done their job down south, but all that rain in the big lake and all that water being pumped out of New Orleans had to go somewhere didn't it? Now we know where it went.
We hope that our readers will share some of these stories with friends so the volunteer rescue work will continue, for these tales are truly but the tip of a very large ice berg of continuing misery.
We did not have the heart to ask if these good people had flood insurance.
A mass of debris that once defined daily life.
Eye Witness Recollections of the Flood
James thanked the volunteers over and over until his praises were almost embarrassing. The group helped him to remove remaining drywall, floor tile, and appliances destroyed by the water, but he would not let us go without trying to give something. His eyes were bright with energy as he recounted how he and his neighbors were able to escape by truck just before the water made streets impassable.
"We saw water in the streets and had maybe 15 minutes before escaping by truck. It was like a wave coming up the street. We never flooded here before. I thought they fixed the levees. What have they done to us?" James cut and broke out drywall to ventilate the house after three feet of water stood for two full days before slowly draining back into Lake Pontchartrain. We stood in what was once a nice living room as volunteers shoveled broken tile and remnants of drywall into wheelbarrows. James went to his refrigerator (now sitting on the back patio) and came back with a container of juice. "Here, have some please," he said earnestly. "I know you are all worn out." He brushed our polite refusals aside and finally we all took a cup of the best tasting grape ever.
"I did everything myself (to clean up the house) and until the church people came along, I was about to give up. They gave me hope. Then the police told me I couldn't say here because the house is in such bad shape, but it's my house. I got nowhere else to go, and I'm through running. I can fix it up again." He shook hands and one of our group told him he had done well. "Thank you, thank you," he said, tears filling his bloodshot eyes.
A van moved slowly up the street, trailed by a lady on foot. "Do you all need something to eat or drink?" she called to us. We inquired where she was from. She named a nearby church and we saw unfolded the pattern of love and concern that was repeated many times during the day.
Note the black spotted band on the far wall. That is black mold, not a wallpaper pattern. The mold was also inside the wall, climbing the studs and headed for the attic. The mattress was still dripping, soaked through and through. Everything in the plastic containers was dripping wet. As the room flooded, rising water floated, then overturned them. They were under water for nearly three days.
Joyce is fighting for her life against recently diagnosed breast cancer. She rubbed her smooth head where hair once spilled down to her shoulders. Following surgery, chemotherapy and radiation have taken their inevitable toll. She sat bravely in the shade as the wheelbarrows came and went. Most of her possessions were reduced to stinking unrecognizable globs that bore little resemblance to identifiable objects. And then there were the sounds coming from inside the house. Hammers and wrecking bars punched through drywall. Fuzzy black mold spotted the wall three to four feet up from the slab. Young men, gray haired men adjusted goggles and breathing filters and cut into the rotting sodden carpet, then ripping it apart into three foot wide strips. The stench was indescribable. Some of the volunteers gagged as they worked. Team leaders reminded their co-workers not to wipe their faces with their hands or sleeves. Mold was everywhere. The house had been closed continuously since it flooded on August 29th.
"The neighbors took me out in a boat," she said, her eyes fixed on some distant point. "I've been sick." Her husband had died two years earlier in a traffic accident and her daughter was now in foster care. Her cancer surgery was barely six weeks previous. The sound of breaking china, it sounded like someone dropped a plate, echoed from inside. Joyce seemed not to notice. One of the volunteers stopped near her with an armload of clothing, gently inquiring what she wanted to do. "Maybe I can have those cleaned, " she said wistfully. The volunteer gently placed the dresses across the barbecue grille and went back inside for another load. Another volunteer passed, bent to his work, muscling a wheelbarrow loaded with oozing carpet into the rapidly growing six-foot-high mountain of debris on the curb. "Maybe I'd better go get some rest, " she said. We called for a lady church volunteer who took her to a friend's house a few miles away.
Mold moves up studs and if it reaches the attic, takes over the entire house.
These fan blades attest to how far mold contamination can go.
Jeanne didn't say much at all on her own, and when we asked questions she would not always answer. A volunteer asked about some family pictures and said he was sorry she had to go through all this. Jeanne turned to him and burst into tears. Choking on her grief she related how her daughter had died in the Katrina flood. And in the background the wheelbarrows came and went. One of the volunteers worked with his wife who was trying her best to help Jeanne separate things that could be salvaged from those that could not. Jeanne's ten year old son searched through the front yard, here and there pulling a toy or possession from what was once the contents of his home.
How long had Jeanne to escape before the waters came in, we asked? "I didn't leave," she said calmly. How high it it get in the house? "Up to my waist," she replied. And so she stayed in her home for two days on a kitchen counter and a table until the water subsided. We didn't know what to say, so we told her how brave we thought she was. She shrugged. "I have been blessed, and I am grateful to God for everything."
Our last note for this entry will be one of admiration for the hardy souls who we saw doing what they could with what they had, asking for nothing in most cases, and offering tearful thanks for anything that was given. The families of La Place Louisiana are good people and we count it a privilege to have had an opportunity to partake of their loving hospitality. Please don't forget them.
Once an automobile is immersed, it is destined to become razorblades. The water rose so rapidly that many cars could not use the streets.
All kinds of trash is piled next to the curb.
Clothing, appliances, personal papers, bills, bank statements, sodden insulation...you cannot imagine until you wade through it.
What young hands once beat this drum? The comforter, now laden with bacteria, still had the sales slip in the plastic case.
The inner surface of the auto window was covered with drops as the sun came out. It appeared as a kind of terrarium inside.
Someone had given her roses, long dried and saved for fond remembrance.
Out of a whole household, this was what could be saved. It was all contaminated with innumerable bacteria from the flood-soup.
Please don't forget these good people.