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Historic Louisiana Flooding Continues

“My fellow Louisianans – Our state is currently experiencing a historic flooding event that is breaking every record. This event is ongoing, it is not over. Even if the sun has come out in your area, we do not know when the floodwaters will recede, and they will continue to rise in some areas…” Gov. John Edwards

Louisiana-Rainfall

Click image for rainfall animation courtesy of NASA.

In the last week, Louisiana has been hit with a “no-name storm” that has dumped three times the amount of rain than fell during Hurricane Katrina. Unless you’re in that immediate area, however, your news channels likely haven’t been giving the floods (and tribulations of Louisiana residents) much coverage until very recently. The rest of country is just now slowly coming to the realization that this rain isn’t stopping, and the damage is far trivial – over 40,000 homes now flooded (many of them — because there were not deemed to be in flood risk areas — without flodd insurance), at least 13 lives lost as of this writing, and the water isn’t receding much yet.

A casket is seen in front of a partially submerged church in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, U.S., August 15, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman   - RTX2L1QH

A casket floats in front of a partially submerged church in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, on August 15, 2016. Jonathan Bachman / Reuters

Viral videos of dogs being rescued and photos of flooded streets are giving way to accurate reporting and the realization that billions of dollars in damage has been caused by the trillions of gallons (yes, trillions with a tr-) deluging this already financially challenged state.

Flooding-Louisiana-2

A flooded baseball field at the Gonzales Civic Center is seen in an aerial view in Gonzales, Louisiana, U.S. August 17, 2016. Louisiana Environmental Action Network/ Photo By Jeffrey Dubinsky/Handout via Reuters

 

The basics of this disaster are as simple as they are largely unprecedented: early in the day on August 11th, weather conditions created a large, nearly-stationary rainstorm over the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas. Rain began to pour down without the storm moving on or letting up. Rainfall quickly exceeded two feet in some towns as a result of the weather system remaining fixed overhead.

By the next day, a state of emergency was declared for the entire state as the rain continued to fall. On the 13th, flash flood emergencies were being issued along many rivers, and by the 15th, at least ten rivers had reached flood stages, eight of them exceeding historical record levels.

Over 7 trillion gallons of rain fell over the last week. That's 1.5 x what fell during Hurricane Isaac and over three times what fell during Hurricane Katrina.

To help give RECOIL’s readers an idea of what that number looks like, consider this: a gallon jug weighs 8.4 lbs. – about the same as a scoped AR10-type 7.62mm rifle. Now, imagine the weight of 7 trillion AR10s in water (that's enough to give every single resident of the United States 21 rifles of their own, by the way).

By the 17th, a police-enforced curfew was declared, brought on by reports and arrests for looting, the near-synonymous act associated with natural disasters. While looting was not as widespread as perhaps was remembered during Katrina, southern Louisiana parishes kept people off the streets of Baton Rouge from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., after almost two dozen people were caught stealing from businesses and homes in flooded areas over the weekend (that according to East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux). As of two days go, as water began to slowly drain away from most of the flooded areas, more than 85,000 people had registered for FEMA federal disaster aid. Eight more parishes were added to the federal disaster declaration, bringing the total number of affected parishes to twelve and climbing.

Looking forward and accounting the damage, the rains have mostly subsided, but floodwaters are yet to recede fully. Levees and rivers that have spilled over their banks have ruined massive numbers of homes. Ascension Parish, one of the worst-hit locations in the state has nearly a third of its homes (approximately 15,000 structures) waterlogged after a levee spilled over onto the area. In Livingston, a parish of about 138,000 people, a government official estimated that 75 percent of the homes in the area are described a “total loss.”

RECOIL reached out to local law enforcement for their take on the situation. Longtime Louisiana resident Louis Frost sympathized.

“The worst part is that part of the state has never flooded before, so many people don’t have flood insurance. It’s going to be a big impact on them.”

Because many of the areas in Louisiana that flooded were not deemed as “high flood risk areas”, the majority of homeowners affected did not have coverage against this sort of disaster.

Flooding-Baton-Rouge

This aerial image shows flooded areas on and near the campus of Louisiana State University (LSU), Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, in Baton Rouge, La. (Patrick Dennis/The Advocate via AP)

 

Before the financial sorting out begins, the human side has been underway and successful. Local, State, and Federal emergency crews all are working to rescue stranded residents and evacuate those that cannot make it out on their own. Gov. Edwards advises more than 30,000 people have been rescued. By Sunday morning the Coast Guard alone had rescued a total of 245 people, assisted 3,008 people in distress, and rescued 71 pets and other animals.

Photo 4 Horse Facebook LouisianaStateAnimalResponseTeam

Photo Credit: Louisiana State Animal Response Team TLAER.org and LSART lvma.org/lsartdonations

The financial impact will continue to hurt the oft-battered state, adding to the deficit problems it already had. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' chief financial adviser says catastrophic flooding has made it more likely that the state will need a short-term bank loan to keep paying for government operations. The Edwards administration was worried about cash flow problems even before the storms because his predecessor and lawmakers spent heavily from state treasury reserves to patch together prior year budgets. Louisiana has already made the maximum allowed withdrawal of $128 million from the state's emergency fund, and with a rising unemployment rate, the state’s tax base continues to shrink.

This deluge of financial problems, of course, brings presidential politics and responses to the storm. Photo-ops and finger-pointing ranged from both criticism and defense of President Obama for playing golf on vacation throughout the incident (he did finally travel to Louisiana yesterday), to presidential-hopeful Trump being the only POTUS candidate yet to make an effort to visit the troubled (he handed out supplies from a semi-truck he had brought down). Naturally, the way the previous shaming of the Bush administration by news outlets for its slow response during Katrina is being either compared to and contrasted with the current administration’s lack of response, or ignored, depending on the political bent of the news agency in question.

Political posturing and media biases aside, there are effective, legitimate, and unbiased private organizations on the ground helping that are looking for not only donations, but also for volunteers that can get involved and assist for a few days.

Here are some ways you can help.

Samaritans Purse, a fast-responding charity that has rolled relief and assistance trucks in early, can use assistance and donations:

https://www.samaritanspurse.org/donation-items/us-disaster-relief-donation/
https://spvolunteernetwork.samaritanspurse.org/south-central-louisiana-flood-response/

And the American Red Cross is looking for folks willing to Join their Southeast Louisiana Disaster Action Team, or donate:

http://www.redcross.org/local/louisiana
http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Join-the-Southeast-Louisiana-Disaster-Action-Team

Read more and take a look at the interactive maps on USA Today. More imagery courtesy of The Atlantic here.




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