Louisiana, Washed Away, Once Again

Even we who were on higher ground were worried in Lafayette Parish in south Louisiana. The Rude Stepdad said that he had dropped his flood insurance a few years earlier under advice from his insurance agent, who happened to be a neighbor. During the storm on Friday and after the rain finally slacked off on Saturday, both of them watched as the water crept up from the street and the puddles in the yards became pools, one more downpour away from reaching the front door. The insurance just cost $400 a year, something the Rude Stepdad can well afford. As we looked outside the house, I said, perhaps a bit dickishly, "You get the insurance for the peace of mind." The Rude Stepdad agreed and, before I left on Monday, he said he was going to sign up again.

That was what you heard over and over from people as the historic storms created historic floods and historic river crests, with some still to come, all over south Louisiana, hitting primarily in Cajun Country and the state capital, Baton Rouge. It flooded where it never floods. One friend who said he always floods at least a bit didn't get any water while residents who never got water in their homes were confronted with several feet of it.

The stories came in. An employee of the Rude Stepdad's couldn't open the store because her trailer had water up to her knees. The Rude Brother showed me a photo of a friend who said he was heading to the store in Youngsville. He was standing on a paddleboard, heading off into the drowned streets like a surfer-dude Huck Finn to a grocery store that had a line around the block waiting to get in. This being Louisiana and this storm not being a hurricane or even predicted to be anything like what happened, people hadn't cleared the shelves to hunker down for a rainy staycation. Just the night before, the Rude Brother and I had been boogying in a downtown bar as the showers poured down, and now the stores around the Blue Moon Saloon were taking on water.

Before the curfew on Saturday night, I went to one of the only open stores, Target, to get a few things. The place was virtually a ghost town, and I was in line behind a couple of members of the National Guard, who were just called up to go rescue people in the water-covered town of Crowley, among others. The guardsman in line in front of me told the cashier that he didn't know when he'd get back home, so he was buying underwear and t-shirts and pajama pants. "Just to have something dry to wear," he told her, knowing what was coming, the thousands of people who needed their help. When the underwear didn't scan, the cashier just let him have it for free. He thanked her and handed some money to a woman in uniform to help pay for the beer they were getting, too.

In Baton Rouge, the Rude Sister-in-Law's sister was texting from her house on Saturday as the flood waters rose. At first she was worried the water would get inside. But she wouldn't get in her car and leave. Then the water was coming in. Then it was up to her ankles. But she refused to call 911 to get rescued. Then the water was up to her knees. Then AT&T crapped out and she couldn't text any more. But she went on Facebook to post a photo of herself sitting on her roof, with a beer, watching the water rise. The Rude Brother and Sister-in-Law were ready to race there to save her, but any road to get to her was blocked by the floods. Finally, she got on a boat and was taken to a house of friends down the river...the road, but, you know. The next day, the Rude Sis-in-Law drove to Baton Rouge in a truck with big mud-ready wheels and walked through the thigh-high sewage and snake-filled water to get her sister, her dog, and two cats.

While she was doing that, I went with a pal to brunch at the Blue Dog Cafe. I'm no hero. On the way there, we drove past the flooded areas of Lafayette.

We drove close to the overflowed Vermillion River, and I told my pal about wealthy friends of the Rude Brother who had been rescued by boat right down the street. At the restaurant, we sat at the bar. The bartender was pissed off because he had been called in after there had been two or three feet of water in his neighborhood, which was right down the street from Target. While sucking down beer and Old Fashioneds and gumbo, my pal talked about how places like Youngsville had been overbuilt, that sugar cane fields that once were a buffer between the river and homes had become subdivisions, especially in the state's diaspora post-Katrina.

My pal walked up to the two guitarists singing folk and rock songs for the few people in the place. He put a five I gave him in their tip jar and requested Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," the mournful song about resilience and resignation in the face of an uncaring disaster. It was lovely and sad and we applauded at the end before heading for a serving of dirty rice and crab cakes.

By yesterday, many of the floods had receded, while some towns were waiting for more floods to come. More rain fell. It's summer and there are gushing thunderstorms most afternoons.

I can guarantee you that the vast majority of the houses gutted by the floods would have never been robbed. That is a pretty ludicrous fear in general. I can guarantee you that all the time we have spent arguing about having guns to protect us wouldn't have stopped one raindrop from falling. And I can guarantee you that what we used to call "unprecedented" storms, 100 year storms, 500 year storms, now have precedents and what used to be rare will become more frequent. As many states have learned in the last couple of years, you don't need a storm with a name to wreck the joint. You don't have to be a Democrat or Republican to know that the real threat to you and your home and your family is the weather, not the criminals.

We can make political statements about how places like Louisiana have been led by people who don't think climate change is real. If nothing else, we can be sure that they will one day have to flee for higher ground or drown. The question is how many of us will they take with them.

You can donate to flood relief here and here.