It’s no secret that Baton Rouge and its surrounding areas have been dealing with one thing after another lately. Since the early days of July, it doesn’t really seem like there’s been any sense of normalcy around here. One minute, we’re all over every news station in the country because of two violent (and somewhat controversial) crimes. Fast forward to a few weeks later, when we’re literally drowning and need that national attention that was so incredibly unwanted before, and we’re being nothing short of ignored.
It’s cool, though, because down here in The Boot, we know a thing or two about resilience and survival. We can handle our own. It’s running thick through our veins. It’s spanned generations for years. When Mother Nature wreaks her relentless havoc, we persevere. We recover. We rebuild. I promise you, we always come back stronger than ever.
Why? Because we help people who desperately need it, even if we’ve lost everything ourselves. We do this because we know that strength comes in numbers. We do this because we know that Mother Nature doesn’t care about your skin color, your religion, your income level, or your gender. Mother Nature doesn’t discriminate. Ever. Floodwaters don’t choose who they want to destroy and who they want to spare. When you see your community in need, you don’t second-guess a thing. You help because suddenly your community becomes your family. Suddenly, we’re all in this together. Suddenly, we’re all united as one. And suddenly, we realize that every single thing that tried to tear us apart just a few short weeks before, proves even more how much we need to appreciate and respect each other. How much we really need each other. How much of a difference we can make when we choose to stand united and not divided. I believe that’s a huge reason why we didn’t gain national attention when it was so desperately needed.
The media doesn’t want to focus on the Good Samaritans of the world. They don’t want to show stories of survival, courage, and determination. They want to highlight the negatives and the violence in society to continue to add fuel to the hate infused fire that, quite honestly, just needs to be put out.
People who aren’t from here are quick to pass judgment and make remarks insinuating our ignorance for staying in a place that’s prone to flooding. I find that funny because you don’t see us telling people in the Midwest to move because of tornadoes. We don’t tell anyone on the West Coast to move because of droughts and wildfires. We don’t tell northerners to leave because of their high risk of icy roads and blizzards. We simply cannot fathom doing that because it’s like telling someone to just pick up and leave his or her heart behind. It’s so much easier said than done. It’s so easy to say judgmental things like that when you aren’t experiencing it yourself.
When the floodwaters started coming in, none of us had any idea what we were in for. I packed to go back home to New Orleans for one night, thinking I’d come back on Sunday and everything would be fine. My plan was to go visit family for the first time in quite a while and come back up to Baton Rouge to go to work on Monday, like normal. I knew it had been raining steadily for about a week or so before, but I didn’t really pay much attention to the amount of rain that had been accumulating throughout that time. I literally didn’t even think about the rivers reaching well above their flood stages because it had never really happened before (at least not in my lifetime). It wasn’t until I started watching the news more closely and kept talking with my aunt that I realized the seriousness of the situation. At first, I wasn’t concerned because my aunt and uncle weren’t concerned. They’ve lived in the Baton Rouge area for over forty years and have never flooded. The only reason they always kept an eye on the river stages was because they have a boat house a few cities over that is on one of the rivers. So, for them to be keeping an eye on the river stages just seemed normal to me. I told myself that I wouldn’t worry about anything until they did.
It wasn’t until I woke up to an email from my aunt on Sunday morning that read: “Water is just starting to come in. No phone service, so advise the gang,” that I realized just how much devastation these floodwaters were going to bring. I couldn’t call or text her because by this point in time, service was nearly non-existent. Even though I responded to her email right away, it wasn’t until a few hours later that I received a reply. It felt entirely too much like déjà vu. 11 years prior, my family and I left our hometown near New Orleans to evacuate to my aunt and uncle’s house in Baton Rouge to escape the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. It was a complex mixture of emotions and uncertainty, but that was at least something that we all could prepare for, as best we could. Hurricanes are something that we’re all used to by now. Anyone in the Southeastern Louisiana area will talk about the similarities between what’s been deemed as “The Great Flood of 2016” to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Some people who lost everything in Katrina have now lost everything that they’ve worked so hard to rebuild over the past 11 years. For me, I still experienced those same feelings of uncertainty and, especially, helplessness. This time around, I was back home in New Orleans and unable to return to Baton Rouge because there were so many road closures. This time around, I knew that I had multiple family members being affected and there was nothing that any of us could do to help them. With the rivers continuing to rise and the rain continuing to fall, no one had any idea of when the roads would be clear enough for anyone to travel on.
By the time Tuesday morning came around, some roads were open, and I was finally able to make my way back up to Baton Rouge. I remember seeing the water line marks on the trees alongside the Interstate. In some areas, there were still cars stranded on the side of the road. There was still water blocking exit ramps from the interstate because it hadn’t fully receded yet. I knew that my family members had gotten about 2-3 feet of water in their houses, so I was concerned about how they were coping. Driving through the affected neighborhoods was so surreal, and walking into their house for the first time was even more surreal. The smell of stagnant water hit me like a ton of bricks the second I walked in the door. Although it has been a little sad to see so many of their things being put out to the street, it’s also been very bittersweet. The thing that has struck me the most is the resilient amount of positivity they have shown throughout this difficult time.
That positivity is still being shown throughout the local communities today. It’s part of what makes Louisiana so strong. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Strangers are helping strangers. People are just overall being kinder to each other, and it’s just a beautiful thing to witness. Tragedies and pure devastation have a strange way of bringing people together. Like my dad said, maybe this is the Big Man Upstairs trying to teach us all a lesson to be nicer to each other. To be kinder to each other. To treat each other with respect, appreciation, and dignity. To set our differences aside and come together to rebuild and recover.
If the people of Louisiana can teach the rest of the world anything, it’s that resilience, respect, support, and a little determination can help us overcome anything. Also, we can teach y’all a thing or two about cultural appreciation through a love of good food, dancing, music, celebrations (even if there’s nothing to celebrate), and football. And although life may eventually take me across state borders someday, I will always be proud to call Louisiana home.
We’ll always be Louisiana Strong and unBRoken. And Mother Nature will never be able to tear us apart, no matter how hard she tries.