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The Great Louisiana Flood of 2016

-- Some stories from the front lines --

Using An LSU Agcenter Airboat For Something Other Than Research

By Dr. Andy Nyman, Professor
Flood Efforts, August 2016As I was getting ready for bed on Saturday night, August 13th 2016, someone called and asked me to bring an airboat to the East Side Fire Department. Around midnight, I launched the airboat on S. Harrell's Ferry Rd at O'Neil Lane after a fireman named Brian Besson put a generator in the airboat so he could run a huge, but hot-to-hold light. Brian had already been awake two days; earlier that morning he had evacuated his wife and three daughters from their new house before returning to work. We headed east down S. Harrells Ferry Rd. at first on flooded roadway. I realized the airboat was necessary after we crossed several hundred feet of road that was not flooded and entered a flooded area that was not accessible to boats with outboard motors. There was only 3-5 feet of water on the streets but the current often was more rapid than I’ve ever seen in the Atchafalaya Basin or in coastal marshes; there were standing waves and white water, especially at intersections, which really surprised me. I was afraid of hitting powerlines. A couple of times I hit things and realized I was breaking peoples mailboxes down; I was afraid of running over fire hydrants. Until dawn, we took people from flooded homes south across Jones Creek where could use their cell phones and call someone to pick them up here, which was still car-accessible. Around dawn, Brian said that his fire station was getting close to flooding and that he need to raise some equipment; he also had been awake three days and needed some sleep. I had been awake a day myself but I felt fine and I wanted to get back to numerous people still wanting to get out of their flooded homes.

Flood efforts, August 2016So I kept driving but Brian told me it would be faster to bring people west to where we had launched from the truck: near O'Neil and S. Harrells Ferry Rd. So I continued taking people from flooded homes. Initially at O'Neil, I could see ambulances, sheriffs, and a tent where journalists were interviewing people who were walking out on their own. Soon, there were a few personal outboard boats that could drive from O’Neil to the fire station. So I stopped bringing people all the way back to O'Neil; instead, I'd drop them off near the fire station and tell them to walk a hundred yards or so to where the outboards could reach. Occasionally I would have passengers too old, young, or sick to make the walk and transfer to the outboards and I'd bring them all the way to O'Neil. This was probably ruining the “teflon” bottom on the airboat but I was thought it was necessary. Around 3pm, I decided to stop. When I got to O’Neil and S. Harrells Ferry Rd, I trailered the airboat and then noticed that there were no reporters, no sheriffs, and no ambulances. Fifty to a hundred people were sitting around on this island in the middle of the flood with no food, no water, no bathrooms, and nowhere to go. I got home around 4pm after driving through very deep water and passing several trucks that had stalled.

"Will You Stay?"

By Kristin DeMarco, RNR Graduate Student
Kristin DeMarco Helps with Flood rescueIt’s Wednesday August 17th — a full 4 days after the worst of the flooding — and I’m in French Settlement, Louisiana, part of a 5 truck and trailer convoy orchestrated by the Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART), out of the LSU Vet School. I’m one of 2 airboat drivers in a group of 4 boats, towing my favorite machine in the world, “The Fabre”, named after Eric Fabre, a RNR student worker in our lab who was killed in a hit and run accident in the summer of 2014. We get off the Livingston exit all right, but shortly thereafter, the flooded creeks and bayous we encountered, have made most of the small town virtually impassable, and literally underwater. Small pseudo-farm properties are the norm in this area, with lots of backyard horses, pigs, and cattle. These animals are a primary purpose today, as the LSART team of veterinarians and veterinary students respond to calls from property/animal owners in the area that are desperate for someone to check on their animals. Many of these animals we see on our way from our makeshift boat launch (a ditch that has flooded to appropriate levels) to the location of interest— are bloated, belly up in 6 feet of water, and caught in the tops of barbed wire fences.

The first property we respond to is heartbreaking scene. I drive the airboat up as slowly as I can, balancing the need for calm and quiet with the need to steer. As we approach the front porch of the house surrounded by water there are 2 ponies, a mare, a stallion, a Brahma cow, 7 chickens, 3 dead rabbits, 4 cats, a dog, and a cage with several pet rats, all trying as best as they can to escape the water below. Nearby, there are 3 giant pigs in the back of a pick-up truck. These animals have been without food and water for days, are scorched by the sun, and are truly at the edge of their physical tolerance levels. As the other boats steer off to respond to other calls, we stay here to administer IV fluids and medical care, and provide fresh water and food to the larger animals which can’t be moved; we catch the smaller animals to take back to Baton Rouge for care. The veterinarians are adept at their job, moving the big horses to the back porch where they’ll have more shade and room, and wrangling the pigs into carriers (think enormous dog crates) to take back to the vet school. We load up the animals on our boats and head out to the next call.

There’s a report of a horse tied to a bridge, stuck in shoulder deep water, a pig on a porch, and a small kitten inside left behind. Three unfixed male Shetland ponies are tearing through the higher parts of the neighborhood, chasing everything in sight, seemingly enjoying their freedom. We found a terrified puppy under a bridge, housecats and dogs on roofs, horses trapped in pens, and everywhere animals had taken to porches abandoned by their humans, the only dry ground around. We do what we can, but daylight fades and we have to load up and head back to campus. While loading-up the boat, I was approached by several folks from the town. Initially, I was wary— people were stressed to the point of breaking, and there had been more than one local who had told us in no uncertain terms that we were not to come onto their property. Instead, I was passed tiny puppies to hold, asked if I needed anything, and flashlights were held to make sure I had enough light to hook up the boat. A large man with waders and a four-day stubble hugged me like I was family, and pleaded with us to come over to their church to have jambalaya. “Will you stay?”, I asked? “It’s our way of life. What else can we do? We are unfit to live anywhere else.”

revised: 05-Jan-2021 10:56