The Red Cross has declared the catastrophic flood devastating parts of Louisiana as the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Hurricane Sandy four years ago. Experts predict it will cost at least $30 million to restore the area, but that number may grow as the floodwaters recede. At least 13 deaths have been blamed on flooding, and thousands of people in Louisiana have lost everything they own.
By the numbers, more than 60,000 homes were damaged after approximately 6.9 trillion gallons of rain pummeled Louisiana between Aug. 8 and 14. The hardest hit area, Watson, in Livingston Parish, received 31.39 inches of rain between 6 a.m. on August 9 and 9 p.m. on August 16. Baton Rouge had more than 19 inches in that same period. With the majority of the area lying outside the official flood zone, very few impacted residents have flood insurance to help them replace belongings and rebuild their water-logged homes.
Because the rain fell so hard, so fast, many people were caught unaware. Emergency responders and civilians helped rescue more than 30,000 residents and 1,500 pets.
Ducks Unlimited (DU) staff and volunteers in the region quickly fell into two categories: those impacted and those helping their neighbors. Some were personally impacted, yet chose to stay and assist others in need.
Among those affected, Lafayette DU banquet chairman Beau Phares had five feet of water in his house by the time the rain ended. He and his family lost most of their belongings, including irreplaceable and treasured items like family photographs.
Regional Director Derrick Davis describes Beau as one of the keys to Lafayette DU's success. "Beau's passionate dedication to Ducks Unlimited is seen by all the volunteers on the committee. He spends days at local outdoors shows throughout the year to persuade vendors to donate products to the Lafayette chapter. I've never experienced a volunteer so dedicated to getting items donated," Davis said.
That dedication was reciprocated when floodwaters receded. Members of the Lafayette DU committee, coworkers from MidSouth Bank and friends all pitched in to clean up the Phares' home. More than a dozen people have stepped up to make sure the family is taken care of as their house is restored.
Across the state, many Ducks Unlimited supporters made offseason use of their hunting boats to help out their neighbors, friends and even complete strangers. Louisiana DU's most recent Volunteer of the Year, Kurt Cazayoux, jumped in his truck, boat in tow, to lend a hand.
Since most of the Lafayette area was under control, Kurt headed south. After traveling for more than an hour through waist-deep water, he arrived in Abbeville where he found several Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries boats and a few other volunteers plucking flood victims from their homes.
Kurt quickly launched his boat on Highway 14 and began to help the flood-stricken families. After close to ten hours the area was cleared of families requiring rescue. Kurt also spent time ferrying people across the river to work, as well as delivering nursing home supplies to trucks awaiting the packages.
Local, state and national DU volunteer Nick Lichenstein from Thibodaux was another of the "DU Volunteer Navy" who helped rescue people from their flooded homes. After floodwaters receded, Nick showed up with other volunteers to help one of the women he'd rescued earlier start work on her house.
Similarly, McNeese State University DU chairman Austin Mouton and his roommate hooked up their boat in Lake Charles, and headed east to Baton Rouge as soon as they learned of the people stranded in their homes and businesses. Their own hometowns were flooded, but they couldn't get there. Instead, they ended up in the Port Vincent and French Settlement areas, some of the worst hit by flooding.
They immediately launched their boat and started pulling people from their homes. More than 48 hours later, with no sleep, the pair were sent home to recuperate.
"I don't have an estimate on how many we rescued, but I want to be clear that there were many more with us out in the flood," Austin said. "We were just two of more than 20 guys who were out there in seven boats. It was a complete community effort of college friends who wanted to do whatever we could to help."
Despite their grueling rescue efforts, after the floodwaters receded Austin returned to help his former department head at the School of Renewable Natural Resources at LSU, Dr. Allen Rutherford, gut his house. It had been inundated with 32 inches of water.
Other DU volunteers were there to help as well, including Dr. Luke Laborde, advisor to the DU Tiger Chapter and Baton Rouge chapter committee member; DU Regional Biologist Alonda McCarty; and many others.
Many people got to see the true DU family spirit firsthand in the wake of the disaster. One behalf of all DU volunteers and members, we extend a special Ducks Unlimited thanks to all who have given their time and resources to assist victims of the recent flooding in Louisiana.
Despite recent setbacks in Louisiana, Ducks Unlimited's volunteers remain committed to our mission of restoring wetlands in the Sportsman's Paradise, and across all of North America. These critical wetland habitats provide places for ducks and other wildlife, but they also play important roles in water retention and absorption and flood mitigation.