Flooding surprises LaPlace residents
LaPLACE — Louisiana guardsmen, state wildlife and fisheries agents, and sheriff’s deputies rescued residents from Hurricane Isaac-flooded homes in several swamped LaPlace subdivisions for a second straight day on Thursday, including an 87-year-old man who spent a night alone in the attic.
James Earl Booth Sr., who has lived in the 300 block of Somerset Road in the hard-hit River Forest subdivision since 1984 and has never flooded, declined an initial attempt by Louisiana Army National Guardsmen to evacuate his inundated home but later was coaxed from his attic retreat by several Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries agents who escorted Booth through nearly hip-deep water to a waiting military high-water vehicle just down the street.
“I wanted to stay, but it’s getting pretty bad,” Booth, wearing a yellow Masters golf tournament T-shirt, conceded once safely in the back of the Guard truck. “I (had) set me up a little bed in the attic and was content until I came to the realization that it may be time to get out.”
He added, “This is my last hurricane to try and ride it out. I’m getting too old for this.”
Public officials are still trying to sort out why so much of LaPlace flooded so quickly and so unexpectedly Wednesday.
Steve Wilson, president of the Pontchartrain Levee District, said the danger of such flooding has existed for years.
“I-10 is the closest thing you got to any kind of flood barrier over there,” he said.
Unfortunately, the interstate has culverts and on-ramps and other ways for the water to cross over from lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain and into LaPlace, he said.
Previous storms have brought water close but just short of the subdivisions between I-10 and Airline Highway, he said.
“We had flooding in (hurricanes) Katrina and Rita, but not to this extent,” Wilson said. “This is the first time to my knowledge, they’ve had water in homes this far in.”
A combination of a late tidal surge through Lake Pontchartrain and a squall that kept the tide high and pounded LaPlace with rain helped bring the water into people’s homes, he said.
Rescues continued Thursday throughout the St. John the Baptist Parish city of LaPlace, including the Cambridge subdivision just down U.S. 61 from River Forest.
Meanwhile, other residents of River Forest, Cambridge and other LaPlace subdivisions who had evacuated their flooded homes on Wednesday returned Thursday, many in boats, to salvage what few belongings they could.
Neighbors Moises Ledesma, 51, and Cornell Bolden, 46, who live on Lexington Drive in Cambridge, walked in knee-deep water up Cambridge Drive. Ledesma carted a 45-gallon garbage can stuffed mostly with food, and Bolden brought out a 30-gallon plastic storage container with clothes as well as food for himself and his dog.
“This is unbelievable,” an aggravated Bolden said. “We’ve never got water like this. This is a no-flood zone. What are you supposed to do? If we had expected stuff like this, we would have left.”
Bolden and Ledesma had 4 to 5 feet of water in their homes. Bolden lost three vehicles in the flooding; Ledesma two.
“My clothes, everything is gone,” Ledesma said.
Darren Coleman, 45, and his 14-year-old daughter Darenisha, who were flooded out of their Concordia Drive home, likewise lugged storage containers and garbage bags up the flooded Cambridge Drive.
“This is our ( Hurricane Katrina),” Darren Coleman said, adding he “never would have thought in a million years” that such a catastrophe would come to LaPlace.
But come it did, forcing wildlife and fisheries agents to rescue husband and wife David and Bernita Augustine, and their frightened dog Ella
“It was just a matter of minutes,” David Augustine said Thursday about how swiftly the water rose a day earlier, swamping his Yorktown Drive home in Cambridge.
Cambridge Drive, like Somerset Road in River Forest, bears the remnants of the initial wave of evacuations Wednesday. Some of the boats used in those evacuations and rescues now rest grounded on the higher sections of both streets, some still tied to trees, light poles or mailboxes. An abandoned jet ski could be seen Thursday on U.S. 51, or what LaPlace locals call “New 51.”
In the lower parts of the Cambridge and River Forest subdivisions, the water was still chest-deep late Thursday.
Some residents remained in their flooded homes, like 48-year-old Richard Scott on Cambridge, even though he still has several inches of water in his house. The wooden flooring in his home is popping up all over, floating in the murky water.
“Everything’s gone. These sofas were floating,” he said of his den furniture.
“I’m a trouper,” he added, using a large piece of wooden molding from his home to navigate the debris throughout his submerged home. “I stayed all night (Wednesday). I slept in my bed. I’ll probably stay until the water goes down and start cleaning up. I’ve got enough food for me and my (two) dogs.”
Bernita Augustine was befuddled by the floodwaters.
“I’ve never seen it like this,” she said. “We moved here the year before Katrina (which hit in 2005). We made out well then.”
“Isaac is our Katrina,” said Eldora Bolden, 38, who lives across the street from Booth on Somerset. She is not related to Cornell Bolden.
Eldora Bolden referred to Isaac as Katrina’s “boyfriend.”
“You have to be careful what you ask for,” she quipped. “I’ve been asking my husband to remodel our house.”
Booth also displayed a remarkable attitude in the wake of the disaster.
“You take it with a grain of salt and move on,” he said.
Wilson, the Pontchartrain Levee District president, said he knows some residents wonder if levee improvements in parishes east of St. John might have sent more water west. But he said he doubts that’s the case.
“I’ve heard all the scenarios. I can tell you in talking to the (U.S. Army) Corps and looking at the modeling, they tell you that’s not the case,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the Ponchartrain Levee District, which includes six river parishes, including East Baton Rouge, has pushed since at least 1983 for a hurricane protection system that would protect St. John, St. James and Ascension parishes from flooding but to no avail.
This despite the potential for flooding of the interchange of I-10 and I-55, a key point in the state’s hurricane evacuation plan, something that occurred during Isaac and has occurred before, Wilson said.
He noted that neighboring St. Charles Parish two years ago completed a levee system and none of the homes behind that levee were flooded.
“If this doesn’t convince the powers that be that we need this levee system, I don’t know what will,” Wilson said. “We don’t need another model. We don’t need a computer to tell us what’s going to happen. We got pictures. We got beautiful homes flooded. The proof is in the pudding.”