DENHAM SPRINGS, La. — Hurricane Matthew’s march through the Caribbean and the southeastern United States in October diverted media attention from another natural disaster: the epic flooding in Louisiana in August.
More than 100,000 homes were lost or damaged when a freak storm dumped more than 7 trillion gallons of water on central Louisiana two months ago.
Families whose neighborhoods had survived many storms, floods and hurricanes suddenly found themselves fleeing for their lives.
“For seven, almost eight days, just every day, day in and day out, one day into the next, we went house to house, door to door making sure people were out, rescuing folks and getting them to high ground,” Jerry Denton, city marshal in Denham Springs, Louisiana, said.
Meanwhile, his own house was under nearly 10 feet of water.
“The water came up quicker than it ever has in the past,” Denton said. “We’ve been in this house 14 years and we’ve never experienced the water rise at such a rapid rate.”
Every Family Affected by Flood
The cleanup will be a long, slow process. In Denham Springs, virtually every single family has been affected.
“Businesses, teachers, law enforcement, firefighters, everybody. Any kind of business that this city can imagine is going to be affected… and consequently, the tax base is going to be impacted tremendously and we’re going to feel all that,” Denton told CBN News.
An area called Alligator Bayou, about a 40 minute drive south of Baton Rouge, was still under water a month after the flooding took place. When CBN News visited the area, some residents were just getting back into their homes to assess the damage.
“I’ve lived here 55 years and the water has never been this high. The water actually stayed in my home for about 19 days,” homeowner Michael Petit said.
He’s trying to pick up the pieces of his life.
“We haven’t received anything from FEMA or the government yet, because they are just now being able to inspect my home because the water was too high,” Petit said.
It’s a problem many homeowners are facing. The Obama administration has pledged nearly $130 million to help those affected, but many say it’s too little, too late. CBN News spoke to a woman named Sabra, whose house was not in a flood zone, so she had no flood insurance. She’s been hoping FEMA would step in to help.
“Of course, we put in for the help that they tell you to put, and they’ll send someone to help you. But that hasn’t happened,” she said.
“Churches from all around have helped, just individuals,” Sabra added.
Operation Blessing Arrives on Day One
And while the people were left waiting for government assistance, Operation Blessing was on the ground from day one.
Many of those whose homes were flooded may be required to raise their homes as much as 14 feet in order to qualify for government aid. But Marshal Denton says that could be a death sentence for this town of 12,000.
“The thing that concerns me is that the federal government, not realizing what they do by requiring these regulations, basically could regulate the town out of existence,” he said.
In the meantime, the people are doing what neighbors do in this part of the country – pulling together and helping one another.
Kevin Reeve manages First NBC Bank in Denham Springs. When CBN News spoke with him, he was serving up hamburgers to the community because nearly all the restaurants have yet to reopen.
“I went through Katrina and lost two houses,” Reeve said. “You have three days to be on your own and another seven days praying for somebody else to show up. So be prepared, but after that the most important thing is your neighbor and those other people who show up quickly to help rebuild your community and contribute toward it.”
“Makes you feel good to know that our society at least is helping each other because the government is doing nothing,” Sabra added.
Although they are calling it a thousand-year flood, these residents worry things like climate change and too much development may cause this to happen again.
For now, men like Denton are doing their best to put their loss into perspective.
“Maybe this is God’s way of saying, ‘It’s time to tear out some of this clutter and put your treasures in heaven where they belong.’ And I think that we’ve taken that to heart,” Denton said.