Louisiana 2016: August Flood Update
Posted On: August 30, 2016
By: Dar Wolnik, FMC Senior Research Associate and Louisiana resident
On Thursday August 11, 2016 rain began to fall in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana at a rate of two or more inches an hour. By the time this “storm without a name” officially ended on August 16, four trillion gallons of water had fallen on the state, almost three times more than had been absorbed during Hurricane Katrina.
The gauges recorded 31.39 inches of rain in Watson, Louisiana, just northeast of Baton Rouge. At least five other locations observed rainfall totals in excess of two feet, all located north or east of Baton Rouge, according to data from The Weather Channel. To offer some historic perspective, Baton Rouge has had an average rainfall of 60.65 inches over the last 30 years. This means they received just about half of their average annual total in a few days. This event came as North Louisiana and Texas were already recovering from the effects of another historic rainfall in March of 2016. (During that flood, one producer in Northeast Louisiana reported rainfall totals on his farm in excess of 23 inches in one week’s time.)
As the rain overtopped the main rivers and continued to fall, it led to backwater flooding of bayous, creeks and culverts, leaving some areas of the state flooded for the first time in decades or ever. More precipitation fell sporadically for the next week after the storm had officially ended, delaying rescue efforts.
In the end, floods inundated 20 parishes (Louisiana’s name for counties), forcing 10,000 people into shelters and 20,000 people to need rescue.
The swath of damage covers three different areas of Louisiana: the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, the Baton Rouge area (the hardest hit area) and the Acadiana parishes around Lafayette.
At least 11 river gauges in southeast Louisiana set new record highs. In some cases, the previous flood of record was crushed, such as Amite River at Magnolia where the crest went six feet over the previous record. The storm then moved slightly to the west and added Acadiana parishes, flooding rural and low-lying parishes along the southern state line. The water equivalent of one and a half Lake Pontchartrains fell on Acadiana in just 48 hours.
Of course, those working with farmers and farmers markets were checking social media and texting producers in those areas as early as Friday morning. At that point, it was clear that the Baton Rouge and North Shore farmers west of St. Tammany Parish would be affected but it was hoped the losses would be crops only and not homes.
An important point to make: If there is any “luck” in this saga, it is that August is one of the slower planting months of the year for Louisiana farmers, who traditionally have okra, peppers, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, and a few other staples on their market tables but little else. The planting season for fall begins near the end of the month and so it is likely that many will be able to plant for fall and just wait out the soggy fields-that is if their fields are still there! However, most farm machinery, livestock, feed storage, hives, greenhouses and more were destroyed across the affected areas and those costs are not easily recouped. Homes of some farmers were also flooded, meaning the family itself will have to be relocated or temporary housing built to even begin to plan for the rest of 2016.
By midday Saturday, reports were circulating that areas of Baton Rouge and towns like Livingston Parish’s Denham Springs were in such dire straits that this was going to be a long week with many tragic outcomes.
News came in slowly. Some had to wait out rising water that came almost a week later in places such as St. James and St. John parishes below Baton Rouge.
First updates from market leaders
Hammond Farmers Market
August 14 at 12:24am: ·
PLEASE SHARE: Hello all, from what we’ve heard all of our market family is safe and sound! We hope everyone else is faring well through this crazy time. Our farmers are all safe, although fields, fences, and feed did not fare so well…If anyone is looking to help out, we are asking for livestock/chicken feed as one of our farms lost everything in the storm. If you’re interested in donating feed to help our farmers out, please email us at email@example.com or message us on or FB page. Everything, no matter how small is appreciated.
August 14 at 1:03pm · Baton Rouge: ·
Checking in with our Red Stick farmers and Main Street Market folks today — A lot of fields under water but most homes are okay…Keeping Louisiana and the Baton Rouge region in our prayers! Also for our loved ones who are stuck on the interstate…
Although early reports were mostly positive, heartbreaking stories began to come in over the next week. This from Crescent City Farmers Market vendor Dale and Heather Robertson in Ponchatoula:
“The damage is horrific. We lost most of our crops and a good portion of my home is flooded. Maybe I would estimate $100,000 in damage.”
And Copper Alvarez, Red Stick Farmers Market post
August 22 at 4:07pm · Baton Rouge: ·
Where’s the DIRT? When a farmer loses his home, it’s troubling for sure but when he loses his dirt — It’s disaster! Fletcher Farm so far has reclaimed 15 truckloads of his farm’s dirt from his ditches, bull-dozing to re-grade the land for replanting! All kinds of issues facing our farm friends and in parishes from Opelousas to Ponchatoula and many, many places in between.
Red Stick Farmers Market heroically opened for their Thursday, August 18 market, even though the area was still dealing with massive flooding. By Saturday, August 20 all area markets were reopened, providing comfort to those farmers who could salvage a few items even as staff were assessing the needs of the communities.
The post from the Lafayette Farmers Market August 19 said it well:
Rebuild. Replant. It’s what we do. Join us tomorrow for a brief respite from the floods and show some love to these local purveyors: Prudhomme City Farms, Gonsoulin Land and Cattle, Inglewood Farm, The Beet, La Fille Son Chien Le Pain, Adorn, ME Healthy Products, Great Harvest of Acadiana, Linda Jo’s Salsa, Henri’s, GrinningJupiter, Scratch Farm Kitchen, ExtremeCypress, PJ’s Jerky, Fruit Popsicles by Cindy, Pasta, Pesto & More, Steve Seneca, A Rolling Stone, Ruston Orchards Llc. Taylormade EATS Cochon Cannery Cajun jam will be lead by Michael Pollock. 8AM – 12PM Rain or Shine. #LouisianaStrong
What you can do:
- “Like” the farmers market Facebook pages in Louisiana to keep up on their efforts. These markets will be centers of recovery for the duration for their entire community. Here are some: Crescent City Farmers Markets, Hammond Farmers Market, Lafayette Farmers and Artisans Market at the Horse Farm, Oberlin Farmers Market, Red Stick Farmers Markets, Teche Area Festival and Farmers Market
- Forward their updates to your friends and your market communities, linking the funds set up (so far) to help rebuilding farmers: BREADA’s Small Farms Fund, Market Umbrella’s Crescent Fund, and look for GoFundMe accounts in the area that support those producers wanting to rebuild like this one managed by a supporter of the Gotreaux family farm in Scott, LA.
- Support the food community, as they make sure there is good food and comfort over the next weeks and months. Operation BBQ Relief, and of course Second Harvest Food Bank are in the thick of it, getting food to those places without open stores.This Red Stick Farmers Market vendor was feeding folks within a day, and continues those efforts. They could use a few more hands, or funds and some thanks! Our Louisiana restaurant community is always prepared to throw the pans in the trailer and get cooking where they are needed. John Besh’s Restaurant Group has long been at the forefront of recovery, setting up hot food stations for first responders within a few hours of the 2005 levee breaks. His family of chefs and staff continue that work during this event, as do others by setting up food stations in flooded areas. Renee Blanchard of Church Alley Coffee Bar has led the collection and delivery in the Lafayette area from New Orleans along with her fellow coffeehouses and restaurants. That group has even started a longterm recovery initiative called W.E. Rise. Thank these chefs and restaurants via FB or with your support the next time that you are in New Orleans.
- Write posts to your market communities using the information this from this post or from the above organizations in Louisiana. Information needs to be spread across the U.S. as most media outlets have shown only a small amount of the destruction and will move on from the story soon, if they have not already. Do your best to address misinformation:
• This is NOT the same area affected by Hurricane Katrina.
• The flooding was not because of a hurricane, but from a slow-moving, low-pressure system that settled over the area for days.
• The amount of rainfall in the hardest-hit locations had a less than 0.1 percent chance of happening or was a (less than) 1-in-1,000-year event.
• Evacuations were not called for until the water had risen to such levels that it made leaving more dangerous in many cases.
• Some shelters were flooded and authorities lacked the resources to make rescues in some cases: state police were unable to rescue hundreds of people stranded on Interstate 12 for more than 24 hours, as highway ditches flooded the roadway between Covington and Baton Rouge, because they did not have water rescue vehicles available. Stranded motorists shared food, water and medicines while temperatures remained over 90 degrees.
• Because many of the areas that flooded were not in high flood risk areas, the majority of homeowners affected by the flood did not have flood insurance.
• Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White says 22 of the state’s public schools were so heavily damaged by flooding that they can’t be opened immediately. White says the schools are spread across East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Ascension and Vermilion parishes in southern areas of the state hit hard by catastrophic flooding. Many teachers’ homes flooded, with 4,000 staff members’ homes in Baker sustaining damage and another 2,000 in East Baton Rouge Parish.
- Search for and share the stories of resilience and support. The #CajunNavy are, as usual, the unsung heroes of the story across the state. This term is used to describe mostly recreational trawlers, anglers and hunters across the state that own flat-bottom boats (pirogues) or small powerboats and have the navigational skills to traverse flooded neighborhoods without getting stuck themselves. Just like in 2005, they were among the first responders when their neighbors need them, not waiting for an invitation. One story identified a group of 70 volunteers from St. Bernard Parish who conducted hundreds of boat rescues in East Baton Rouge Parish.
- Finding the best way to help may very well come through YOUR network and lead directly to families who will become part of your community. Much of the support that is going quickly and directly to residents is coming via social media and emails from sister organizations in New Orleans and across the U.S. A great example is the network of animal shelters and humane societies taking in adoptions, fosters and getting food, cages and leashes and help to those overwhelmed shelters right outside of the flooded areas.
- Understand that there are three stages of disaster: rescue, recovery and rebuilding. Rescue is almost ended, although many lost animals remain in shelters or outside. In the meantime, recovery begins with emergency DSNAP applications being filed, temporary housing rolling out to the affected areas and families reconnecting to those who have been huddled in shelters or stuck in evacuated cities. Rebuilding then starts with gutting of homes and assessment of the damage. Usually, this phase is prolonged by the need to allow wooden frame houses time to dry out once the wet sheetrock and insulation have been removed. Mold inhibitor is used and the walls are left open for weeks or even months. Insurance and government assistance is the next step, leaving many in a tangle of bureaucracy for months, with necessary paperwork lost to water and mold.
- If you are so inclined, feel free to come on down. The state will be rebuilding for some months and we welcome your visits to assist or just to see it for yourself. Please remember that the areas hit were not in New Orleans so it will be necessary to have a vehicle to travel to the affected areas. Check out this site for opportunities. Housing will be cramped and difficult to come by in those areas so if you are a camper, check out the parks as possible places to stay while here. Bring rubber boots, old clothes, gloves (lots and lots of gloves), HEPA masks, basic gutting tools if possible (hammers, crowbars, drills, brooms/dustpans, saws, generators) and as many construction garbage bags as possible. If you want to help farms directly, bring farm clothes, tools and camping supplies and check with the nearby market organizations’ websites for contact information and needs. If you do come, please don’t ask people why they live here or if we think tax dollars should go to rebuilding: even if you think it is important to ask, people who have just lost everything are grieving and unable to have an objective debate. Stay home and do your own research to answer those questions.
- Follow the music. We can guarantee that musicians across the state will hold events or offer recordings to benenfit their neighbors. The first that has crossed my email is from the seriously great Lost Bayou Ramblers who are from the Lafayette area. This sort of assistance repays your generosity for years to come with our greatest export.
- If you run into someone from Louisiana, simply ask, “Were you in one of the flooded areas?” If they were, offer comfort in whatever way you are comfortable with giving, even if it is just to listen to their story. If they tell you they were not flooded, do not automatically assume that it means they are “okay.” All of the state’s residents are people living with the uncertainty of hurricane season and most live with the painful memory of past losses as well as possibly having family or friends in the affected zone.
A few more facts about Louisiana:
With an average annual rainfall of 59.42 inches, the state of Louisiana gets 20.2 more inches of rain than the national average (39.17 inches)
Baton Rouge (the capitol of Louisiana) has had an average rainfall of 60.65 inches over the last 30 years, which is 55% more than the average nationwide, and about average in Louisiana.
Over a 12-month period ending Aug. 14, 2016, Baton Rouge, Louisiana had 98.83 inches, their wettest on record.
Authorities in hard-hit East Baton Rouge Parish say they have compiled an “inundation map” showing 58 percent of the parish, which includes Baton Rouge, was flooded.
Parishes affected by the August 2016 floods: Acadia, Ascension, Avoyelles, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Vermilion, Washington and West Feliciana.
LSU’s Dustin Harrell reports the flooding has cost south Louisiana rice farmers an estimated $14 million in fields destroyed after being completely submerged for days. The crops can generally survive complete submersion about two days.