After his home flooded twice in one month in April 1983, Livingston-area resident Vernon Dean said, “Never again,” and built a levee around his house.
But when Hurricane Isaac blew through last week, dumping more than 14 inches of rain on Livingston and sending the Tickfaw River up to its 15-foot flood stage, Dean had to admit he was a little worried.
Dean lives on North Doyle Road, a low-lying area off U.S. 190 between Livingston and Holden, in a house he has steadily built and renovated during the past three decades.
The property backs up to an open field along West Hog Branch, a stream that feeds into the Tickfaw River and occasionally gets swollen by extensive backwater flooding.
When the area flooded in 1983, Dean’s house took in 23 inches of water, he said. Within a month, the home flooded again with another foot of water.
Losing everything he had worked so hard to build was unacceptable.
“That’s when I decided to build the levee,” he said.
Dean and his friends hauled in loads of dirt and built an earthen wall a couple of feet high around the house.
They graded the yard space within the levee so that it sloped from front to back and installed 6- and 4-inch drain pipes in the levee’s back wall to allow water to pass through and into the field separating his property from the stream.
“I was a little leery at first,” Joyce Dean said of her husband’s plan. “I kind of thought it was going to look a little weird, but if it would save the house, I was all for it.”
Homeowner’s insurance is expensive enough without tacking on flood insurance, Joyce Dean said. Anything that could minimize damage, even if it looked a bit odd at first, would be welcomed, she said.
“We started trying to figure out what plants to put out front to make it look nice, and I think it turned out really good,” she said.
Grass soon grew over the levee. Flower beds adorned it. And 10 years later, it was put to its first real test.
“In 1993, the water came up again and got to the top of the levee,” Vernon Dean said. “We’re no engineers, just friends with dump trucks, and the front wasn’t as high as the back.
“If the water had come up just a little bit more, I’d have been sitting in a fishbowl, but luckily it did keep the water out,” he said. “That’s when I really knew the levee would work. I just needed to build it higher to make sure.”
Dean added another couple of feet to the levee, bringing it to its current height of about 4 feet, he said.
Other modifications have been necessary as well.
When Dean developed arthritis in his knees six or seven years ago and could no longer climb over the hill to get to his home, his brother, Marlon Dean, redesigned the entranceway.
The pair removed the steps leading over the levee to Dean’s door, flattened the walkway and created a heavy plywood gate that bolts into concrete retaining walls on either side. Once the gate is in place, Dean seals off the path with sandbags, inside and out.
“It’s an awesome design,” Vernon Dean said of his brother’s handiwork.
Dean and his cousin, Larry Dean, were sandbagging the entrance Friday morning after backwater flooding from the Tickfaw River and continuous rainfall brought the waters too close for comfort near his property.
“I’ve got water all around me now,” he said later that afternoon. “The field is solid water coming over from Hog Branch, and it’s been pouring down rain like crazy. It’s been rising fast as I don’t know what since about noon.”
But by Friday evening, the waters had started to recede, and Dean’s house stood high and dry Saturday.
“Boy, I was nervous as I could be,” he said Saturday afternoon. “But it’s backed off enough now that I know we could get more water and still be able to hold it off.”
“That’s great news,” Joyce Dean said. “Our levee has always taken care of us, thank God. Everything’s looking fine.”