The relentless rain

It was a forecast that was all too common for south Louisiana.  We would have several days of rain.  It would start Thursday evening and continue through the weekend.  There was a possibility of flooding.  The people in flood zones, who lived near rivers and bayous, should prepare.  I don’t live in a flood zone so I largely ignored these warnings.  I pictured a weekend watching TV, reading on the internet, and maybe cranking out a blog post.

The rain did start Thursday evening.  It was quickly evident that this was going to be a deluge.  There were copious amounts of thunder and a dull roar as torrents of water hit the roof.  Again, this is normal for south Louisiana.  It happens.  I went to bed to the sound of that dull roar.

I woke up around midnight.  The deluge continued.  Had it continued since I’d fallen asleep?  No, that was unlikely.  I rolled over and went back to sleep.  I woke up again around 3am.  The deluge was still in full force.  I started to get a little worried, but still managed to fall back asleep.

When I woke up in the morning, it was dark and the deluge was still going.  I got up, ate a protein bar for breakfast and got ready for work.  I was delayed leaving by one of the commodes backing up.  This is somewhat normal during heavy downpours, although it hadn’t happened in a long time.  I dealt with that, then prepared to leave, dreading having to drive into work in the downpour with all the associated traffic problems that would be out there.

I left my house, but when I reached the front of the neighborhood, the street was flooded.  I was contemplating how I’d navigate through it (I drive a 4Runner and thought it would be manageable) when my phone suddenly went off with a message from the emergency broadcast system warning of a flash flood alert for the area.  While reading that, I also received a text from the university stating that it was closed today and that everyone should stay home.

So I returned to my house.  While turning in to my driveway, I noticed that the ditch that runs in the front yard by the road was seriously overflowing, with the water taking up maybe a quarter of the space between the road and the house.  I got a little more nervous, but reassured myself that I don’t live in a flood zone.  All this time, the dense downpour continued.

I went inside and turned on the news.  The amount of rain we were receiving was record setting.  I don’t remember what the number was at that point, but the weather person warned that we should expect floods on a scale that we hadn’t seen since the infamous flood of ’83.  I settled down for a quiet day inside.

Around mid-morning, I looked outside and saw that the water had reach the halfway point between the road and the house.  The deluge continued.  As the morning wore on, the news people became increasingly more alarmed, their tone more ominous.  The amount of rainfall was not just going to set new records, it was going to blow well past them.

In Louisiana, we talk about 20 year flood events, meaning an event of a magnitude that happens around once every 20 years.  Many of us, when buying houses, look for land that is not on the 100 year flood zone, meaning that it hasn’t flooded in any event within the last 100 years.  It was becoming evident that the current event wasn’t a 20 year one, or even a 100 year one, but a 500 year one, meaning that no flood chart in existence would be able to mark its limits.

At noon, the water was approaching my front porch, and the deluge continued.  I wasn’t going to flood.  I was not in a flood zone.  The deluge continued.  The water got closer.  Around 1:00, with the water about a foot from the porch, I snapped out of my denial and realized that I needed to act.

I frantically started moving as many things off the floor as I could.  I was suddenly aware of just how many electronic items I had lying around, how much the cables and paraphernalia of the home entertainment system were near the floor .  Getting much of it off the floor meant wholesale disconnecting.  I moved as quickly as I could.  I have a lot of books that would be difficult to replace, many of which are on bottom shelves near the floor or in boxes in corners on the floor.  I couldn’t think where to put them, so I left them there.

The deluge continued.  By now the water had reached the porch and was starting to roll onto it.  I called my dad, who advised me to pack a bag and come to his house, but warned that roads were closing all over the place.  If I was going to come, it needed to be soon.  The problem was that his place is about a 50 minute drive away, and that’s on roads I knew would be flooded.  To get there, I’d likely have to take a circuitous route that would take even longer, possibly hours under current conditions.  And my city mayor (I live in the city of Central on the northeastern outskirts of Baton Rouge) had announced that a curfew would be in effect that evening.

The deluge continued.  I frantically packed.  What to take?  What would I need to live on for what might be an extended period?  I threw everything I could think of into the bag.  By this time, the water was on the porch and in the back carport.  It was maybe two or three inches deep.  In another inch or two, it would be in the house.  It now seemed inevitable.  I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to be home when it happened.  The thought of watching the house flood was painful.

So I loaded up the car.  I had to wear rubber boots by this time.  The water in the carport was about 4 inches high.  By the time I finished, the water was a fraction of an inch from the door.  I killed power to the house and left.

And quickly discovered that I wasn’t going anywhere.

My street was flooded, to the extent that I couldn’t tell where it ended and where the ditches began.  I had thought the water might be foot or so high, but then I saw mailboxes almost completely submerged (they are about 4-5 feet tall).  And someone had left barricades indicating that the street should be considered closed.   I suddenly had no confidence that I could even get out of the neighborhood, much less make it to my dad’s house.  I realized I wasn’t even confident I could get back to my house.

I called my dad from the car and appraised him of the situation.  He stayed on the phone while I slowly drove my 4Runner through the water back to the house.  It looked like I was going to have to make my stand there.  Dad noted that I would probably only get a few inches of water.  It wouldn’t be a life threatening situation, just a nasty one.

I made it back to the house, turned the power back on, and returned to watching the news.  I also started checking the weather radar for my area about once every three minutes.  The deluge continued relentlessly.  I grew to hate the sound of the rain outside.  I talked with a neighbor who had just made it back home in his full sized truck.  He said that the water was very deep and that they had barely made it through.  And he was pretty sure the houses in the front of the neighborhood were already flooded.  The water was now millimeters from getting in both our houses.

I heard from friends whose houses had flooded and who were on the road trying to reach shelter.  One ended up having to park on the road at the highest ground she could find.  She sat there for several hours until a rescue truck brought her to a shelter.

I retreated into the house and waited.  Occasionally someone in a truck would drive by, creating waves of water that threatened to enter the house.  I had to rapidly close the door once or twice to make sure it didn’t.  At one point, what looked like a large rescue truck barreled down the street, apparently on its way to rescue someone in the back of the subdivision, creating large waves that I heard splash against the door.  I was resigned to the inevitable.

And then, the rain slackened.  It didn’t stop, but it’s intensity lowered.  The water outside did not go down, but at least it stopped getting higher.  This was in the late afternoon.  More waiting.  I had missed the opportunity to get sandbags, never dreaming I’d need them.  I put towels against the bottom inside of the door, hoping that if the waters only marginally started to top the door sill, that it might make a difference.  I racked my brain for anything else to do.

Slowly, imperceptibly, with the slackened rain, the water started to recede.  I noticed that it was maybe an inch away from the door now.  But then the deluge started up again and the water went back up.  Then it slackened again.  This cycle repeated well into the evening.  I went to bed fairly sure I’d wake up at some point in the night with water in my house.  That was Friday.

The water on Saturday morning, after it had receded substantially.
The water on Saturday morning, after it had receded substantially.

By Saturday morning, the rain was staying in a slackened, less intense state, although it still fell constantly.  The water had receded from my house a good five feet.  I started to feel much better.  The water was draining away.  I would turn out to be among the luckiest of the lucky.  But my good fortune turned out to be catastrophic for others.

A few miles from my house is the Amite river.  My water drained in that direction, and thousands of people were flooded during the day Saturday.  Then inexorably, the water started draining from their lands toward the south, creating a wave of destruction.  By Sunday, it had reached Baton Rouge proper, turning a major thoroughfare named O’Neal Lane into a river and the nearby neighborhoods into a lake.

Baton Rouge flood
Baton Rouge flood

By Monday, the wave of devastation reached communities to the south, threatening my cousin’s and my dad’s houses.  Similar to my story, the water went right up to their doors, but then receded.  We were fortunate.  Many of our friends weren’t.  My cousin in particular had to hike several miles through water to retrieve his in-laws after their house had flooded.

As I write this, the wave of destruction continues.  It will continue until the end of the rivers are reached.

Flooding is fact of life in Louisiana, but most of us know whether or not we live in a flood zone.  In this freak event, it didn’t matter.  I don’t know how many people lost their houses or cars in this event.  The estimate was at 60,000 last time I checked.  I suspect it will climb.  And thirteen people have died (again, the last time I checked).  Most of these people didn’t have flood insurance.  They didn’t think they needed it.

The city of Central, where I live, received over 20 inches (500 millimeters) of rain in a 24 hour period.  This happened largely without warning.  At least with hurricanes we get a few days notice.  But with this, what should have been a mundane rain event turned into a life changing one for tens of thousands of people.

People are doing the nasty work of cleaning out their flooded houses.  In many cases, they’re having to gut the house.  Recovery will be slow and torturous.  As I finish this post, it is once again raining outside, although it’s the normal rain (I hope) that always comes in Louisiana.

28 thoughts on “The relentless rain

  1. Phew! That was exhausting just to read, let alone for you to experience living through, Mike. So frightening, when one’s deep certainties of security are taken away, and one’s sanctuary, the ultimate safe place, is threatened. I had of course read of this event as it was widely reported here in England. And I know what it’s like to be threatened by deluge, having lived near two villages so afflicted. In 2004, I lived just above Boscastle when it flooded, and we had 8″ of rain in 24 hours – but you had 20″, which is inconceivable. So glad you and your home are okay, Mike. Here’s a clip of how things were where I was in ’04:

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Hariod. I have to admit that I came out unscathed. There are a lot more harrowing stories out there. One of my colleagues, who lives just down the road from me, left for work, turned around when he got the notice, and got home to find his house flooded and all other cars flooded with 5′ of water. He rescued his family and headed for the inlaws to the south, who themselves were threatened a few days later.

      And it looks like all of my neighbors across the back yard flooded. I’m feeling particularly lucky.

      It showed up in English news? Wow, didn’t realize we got international attention. The perception around here is that the US national media didn’t cover it adequately, although I suspect anyone in a disaster feels like the world isn’t paying enough attention. (Something to bear in mind when we hear about far away disasters.) So it’s heartening to know you guys heard about it.

      Whoa! That ’04 flood looks brutal. Did a dam or something break? That water is moving really fast. That looks like some of the flooding that happened here after hurricane Katrina.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It wasn’t a dam that broke, just that Boscastle and Crackington (the two neighbouring villages which I lived between) both have a topography such that water runs off the surrounding fields and into them, normally to run off into the sea through streams and via storm drains. No one was killed, which was quite miraculous given the speed at which it happened, and its ferocity. Plastic debris from some 160 cars swept into the sea later washed up with the tides along a 3 or 4 mile stretch of the coast, and began appearing some 2 years after the flood. The houses, being built of solid stone, took between 18 months and 3 years to fully dry and return to habitability. It was a truly shocking event, but nothing like the scale of that you experienced, with the attendant tragic loss of life. The flood I experienced possibly looks more dramatic, but yours is far, far worse.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks Hariod. Yeah, the politics are now entering the stupid phase. FEMA is down here and seems to be effective (unlike in Katrina) but people are choosing to get upset because Obama hasn’t personally come down and jammed road systems with a Presidential visit.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve seen speculation that the intensity of the downpour could be related to climate change. The problem, of course, is that we can never prove that for any one event. But it does seems like the frequency of these types of events is increasing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you’re okay. I’ve been through a few natural disasters that I didn’t take seriously until it was too late. Nothing too life threatening, but being trapped in your own home while the weather keeps getting worse and worse is a terrifying experience.

    As a side note: that’s interesting to me how the 20-year or 100-year flood zone thing works. I hadn’t heard of that before.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks James. This actually wasn’t my first rodeo either as far as disasters, but most of my experience has been with hurricanes which, in my area, is mostly about wind damage. But there was no wind here, just lots and lots of water, which didn’t look dangerous until it had you surrounded.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I didn’t realize the flooding came so close! That’s quite a story. Also interesting to hear about the time scale of the flooding. Around here during monsoon season, the washes can suddenly fill up. By sudden I mean sudden. It might not even be raining where you are, and you might not see it coming until it’s too late. This rarely happens, though. Usually the streets get flooded in the wash areas, and you just avoid those flooded streets. Your situation sounds worse in a nail-biting way, since you never know where the water will end or how to react to it until it’s too late. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those who don’t have insurance. It’s a nightmare even if you do have insurance.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Tina.

      The time scale was slow for me because my near flooding came directly from the rain. For a lot of other people, who flooded due to water flow, they often only had 15-30 minutes to get out once the water appeared. The most common stories in the last few days involve people not realizing how precarious their situation was until it was too late. Everyone is reluctant to abandon the seeming safety of their own home.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Everyone is reluctant to abandon the seeming safety of their own home.”

        I can relate to that. It’s an interesting phenomenon. I can see debating whether to leave or stay, what to bring, what to leave behind. It’s hard to prepare for something when you don’t know what that something is.

        I was in high school when a tornado threatened our house in OKC. I remember filming my parents and their reaction. I filmed them watching TV (and the TV), discussing whether to leave or stay. It’s all a question of timing. Eventually we all piled into the car and drove away, hoping to get out before the storm. I still remember the eeriness of the wall cloud, the strange distinct divide between blue skies and utter doom and gloom. I also remember the chaos of lightning, rain, hail, and my father yelling at my mother, “Get in the car! Are you getting your (bleep bleep bleeping) jewelry? Leave it!” Which I found hysterical at the time…especially since it was all recorded, including the angry scowl of my mother when she tried to explain what she was doing. (She went back for the social security cards and birth certificates.) The tornado never reached our house, thankfully.

        When these natural events are common to your area and rarely affect you, and when the news reports them with ultra seriousness every time, you can grow immune to the threat. It’s nice when the authorities say, “If you live in x region, get out.” But rarely do they have the information to make that call.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yikes! I’ve never had to deal with a tornado before. They’re thankfully not super common down here, or at least not nearly as common as in the central states.

          “When these natural events are common to your area and rarely affect you, and when the news reports them with ultra seriousness every time, you can grow immune to the threat.”
          That’s actually become one of my beefs in recent years. I understand officials don’t want to not sound the alarm in a potential disaster, but now they constantly sound it. I never saw or heard an emergency alert, except in test, until around 2005. Now I get at least a dozen a year, most of them warning me about a potential thunderstorm.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Exactly right, Tina. I posted a video (see above) of the village I lived just above (thankfully), and its terrifying flooding in 2004. If you watch it you’ll note it’s not even raining, but that torrent is run-off from fields from miles around and where the rain fell up to 12 hours previously.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been watching your local WAFB 9 news online today … w o w …

    20″+ in 24 hrs to start, then more – unbelievable! And your close call, getting the EBS warning and the text message just as you were heading out to work. I once saw about a foot of fast moving water push an early ’70’s 2 ton International Harvester Travelall sideways off the road, so I was relieved to read you turned around and returned home.

    What a mess …

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for taking that much interest! WAFB has been an excellent lifeline throughout this entire ordeal. Them and Facebook, I have to admit. Particularly for the two days that AT&T was down (their central switching facility got flooded) and cell coverage for about half the population winked out.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Steve. I have to admit that I got away from this largely unscathed, just narrowly escaping being hit. Many of my neighbors did flood and are in the process of generally stripping their houses. There are now large mounds of debris sitting along the main road into my neighborhood, and throughout the city.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ben. Agreed on both points.

      Interestingly, one of my work colleagues currently is stranded. His house is dry, but the streets where he lives are underwater, and the water in that area is apparently trapped such that it might take months for it to naturally recede. Efforts are now underway to find a way to drain the area.


      1. Wow. That’s some scary stuff. It seems every area has something that poses a threat.

        I hope your colleague stays safe and at least a little bit comfortable.

        I have to say, as I was reading the article, I kept imagining you sitting on your roof waiting to be rescued. I’m glad it didn’t come to that.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, how frightening and intense. I am happy you were fortunate, and sad for those who weren’t. I appreciate you writing about your experience – hopefully I (and all who read this) will be able to keep it in mind should I ever find myself in a similar situation so that I don’t take serious weather too lightly!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Michelle. I’m not sure if there are necessarily any lessons here, except perhaps that the structure of our lives can be very fragile, and, unless you live in the desert, it’s a good idea to have flood insurance.


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