Rain, rain, go away
“What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
The river rose all day
The river rose all night
They’re tryin’ to wash us away”
Louisiana poet laureate Randy Newman’s poignant lyrics, written 42 years ago, were right on the money throughout South Louisiana last week. Locals watched helplessly as the rain poured down, day and night, for 10 straight days. And when the deluge of water slowed to only daily showers, the bulging canals and tributaries overflowed and continued to flood thousands of homes.
Over two feet of water in two days poured down on a hundred mile circle around Baton Rouge and deep into Southwest Louisiana. It was the “perfect storm” that had less than a one percent chance of happening, and called by the National Weather Service as the equivalent of a 1,000-year rain.
Every element that needed to happen to open up the skies and allow such torrential down pouring of water was in the mix, something that has never, in the record books, occurred before. A massive low pressure crawled across the Gulf Coast, then inexplicitly hovered and stalled over Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas.
The water levels set new records across South Louisiana. Nine different rivers were inundated, and levee systems that were built after the historic flooding of 1983 were unable to handle the overflow. “The National Weather Service said that “obviously we are in record territory.”
After the waters recede, reality will quickly set in as to the extent of the damage. Early predictions estimate that over 100,000 cars have been totaled, and the same number of homes will need extensive repairs. And here is the really bad news. Some 80 percent of the homes damaged have no flood insurance.
Thousands of homeowners outside flood zones figured that their homes had never flooded, so why spend the money. What a terrible way to learn a tough lesson. As I stated repeatedly during my years as Insurance Commissioner, anyone living in South Louisiana needs to have flood insurance, even if they do not live in a flood zone.
If property owners without flood insurance live in a parish that has been declared a disaster area, they can be eligible for a FEMA grant of up to $33,000 as well as low interest loans. But that will make a small dent compared to what homeowners would receive if they had purchased flood insurance.
The rebuilding will take years as we saw following Hurricane Katrina. And those who rebuild will face a number of obstacles and dangers. Unscrupulous home repair companies will flood into the area. Experts on tropical medicine are warning that the receding water can attract the mosquito species that carries the Zika virus. And property owners learned from Katrina that dealing with the federal and state bureaucracy can be a nightmare.
For many, the process to rebuild will be a long and drawn-out effort. All those who suffered great loss will cope in their own way with this misfortune. And we should remember that this is not the Bayou State’s first rodeo in dealing with massive flooding. Louisianans have proven to be resilient and have rebuilt time and time again. This time will be no exception.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com.