A Katrina Survivor Offers Actionable Wisdom To Help Baton Rouge
I was born and raised in Louisiana – about 30 minutes from New Orleans, in an area called the “Northshore.” I experienced Hurricane Katrina firsthand – literally watched it with my own eyes. (Pictured above).
Seeing a repeat of the massive flooding in my home state is painful, especially because my children and I spent the summer in rural Louisiana on some property near Baton Rouge owned by my husband’s family.
When I was there this summer with my two-year-old twins, they ran wild through the pasture, played in their playhouse, helped feed chickens, and harvested corn.
NOW, AFTER THE FLOOD, THAT HOME WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.
This flooding in Baton Rouge was a fluke. There was nothing anyone could’ve done to escape its fury. It was a one-in-a-hundred-years kind of event. It wasn’t expected. There was no warning. It didn’t even have a “name,” like all of our other storms do.
Above Sea Level
Years earlier, when Katrina hit New Orleans, Baton Rouge – only an hour and a half way – was a city of refuge, taking in 200,000 people fleeing the disaster, my family among them. We were grateful, and took comfort in the fact that – unlike New Orleans, which sits a few feet below sea level – Baton Rouge is 83 feet above sea level.
The reported damages, especially to housing, is $20 billion. To make matters worse, the vast majority of people living in Baton Rouge don’t have flood insurance. Why would they?
The Financial Burden of Starting Over
To better understand the financial and personal disruption that the flooding caused, I spoke with friends and family members back home. Two friends of mine from high school who married each other, Bryan and Kassi Picou, have three young children and a hectic schedule, since Bryan is a third-year family medicine resident in Baton Rouge.
Kassi wrote to me saying, “We just did a rough estimate: we lost about $12,000 in contents and spent $3,500 for house gutting.”
My brother-in-law is living in his grandmother’s old house – the same house that my husband and I brought our children home to in their first few weeks of life. My brother-in-law and his girlfriend are gutting the house themselves to save money. They’ve had quite the experience, too. As the water rose, they actually stayed in their attic. Luckily they are alive, safe, and back at work.
My husband’s parents are looking at damage worth several thousand dollars, and will have to gut the first floor of their house.
I am happy to report, though, that FEMA does seem to be working quickly.
Within a week of the flood, a FEMA employee came, took pictures of every room in the house, and said that my in-laws should be hearing back soon regarding the amount of assistance they will receive.
My in-laws do not have flood insurance, but they did have car insurance. All three cars they owned are marked as totaled. They do not know how much they will receive for their vehicles yet, but they expect a check in the mail soon.
If this sounds familiar and you’ve been affected by the Louisiana floods like my family has, here are a few pieces of advice to consider:
- If you do not have the funds to repair your home yourself, thoroughly research options like the SBA disaster loan. Make sure you file your paperwork with FEMA as soon as possible. Follow up religiously. Reach out to charities and volunteer groups who are trying to help people just like you.
- Document everything. Write down every single item you can remember that you owned. Try to itemize your losses. This might be helpful later when applying for relief programs.
- Get multiple quotes from contractors. There will be many people coming to the area offering to help. Make sure they are licensed. I know you are anxious to get back into your home, but don’t let desperation lead to poor financial decisions.
- Fix it right the first time. You might be tempted to leave your floors or your walls in place if you only had a few inches of water, but if there is even the slightest chance of mold, replace what you need to. Trying to scrimp and save during a renovation is admirable, but not when it could potentially affect your health.
- Don’t forget about your mental health. You’ve been through something that you will remember for the rest of your life. Your life has been affected negatively, and it will take you some time to process what has happened to you. In the midst of picking out new countertops and paint colors, don’t forget to take care of yourself, as well.
And for those of you still recovering from the terrible event, let me tell you – as someone who has been through it once, you will become stronger over time, and you’ll be a better and a more compassionate person.
Good luck, Baton Rouge. I’ll be back to visit, and I know soon enough, you’ll look better than ever.
Please consider helping Baton Rouge residents get back on their feet. You can get involved with or contribute to many organizations and charities who are giving back in Louisiana.