The great French commentator on America, Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “America is great because she is good.”
From the now legendary “Cajun Navy” to social media, Taylor Swift and thousands of volunteers who just seem to jump in without asking permission, the great Louisiana flood of 2016 is about to take its place in the annals of US natural disasters.
The figures are astonishing:
- The rain that began to fall in the Baton Rouge area would equal three times the volume dropped on Louisiana by Hurricane Katrina
- The 7.1 trillion gallons could fill the massive Lake Pontchartrain four times
- The 11th largest lake in the US – 40 miles wide
- 8 rivers surpassed their record flood stage
- The Amite River near Denham Springs rose five feet above the all time record
- Considered a 1 in 1000 year event
- Over 40,000 homes nearly destroyed and 100,000 additional damaged
Just a few years ago my wife Sharon and I traveled to Denham Springs, Louisiana, to attend a small wedding at the home of a school teacher. Wynne was marrying our daughter-in-law Ashley’s father, Lindsey, who had lost his wife to heart disease several years before.
As reports of the intense rain last month began to make it into the national media, we learned from Ashley that Wynne had to evacuate and move in with friends near New Orleans. Meanwhile her husband Lindsey, who was visiting family in South Carolina, was unable to travel home – all roads were cut off.
The next day we called Wynne to express our concern and learned that the water was several feet deep in her home and that they had gone back in by boat to rescue a few personal effects – still praying that the rain would stop and reports of a record flood level would not materialize.
Sadly the relentless storm would continue, and before the waters started to recede, there would be more than six feet of river water in her home, destroying most of what she and Lindsay had accumulated over their lifetimes.
We recognized that Wynne and Lindsey would face extraordinary expenses for temporary living and rebuilding, and we wanted to help in some way. But we were not in a position to travel to Louisiana to join in the rescue and rebuilding. So we decided the best idea would be to send them a check and try to raise further funds to help them.
Ashley quickly set up a “go fund me” page, and I shared the link with about 30 friends and family members. Ashley originally set a goal of raising $2,000. But I had a hunch that this story would move people and that we might surpass her initial fundraising goal. So I suggested Ashley increase the goal to $5,000.
Incredibly, within 48 hours we had reached the $5000 mark, and later in the week, we would surpass $7,000.
Recognizing that this is just the story of two flood victims, one has to wonder how many times a similar response was playing out around the country. But in this era of social media and where friends know friends around the country and the globe, this story spread quickly; the family in Louisiana was in touch with family in South Carolina, who got in touch with Delaware, who reached out to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Some who contributed commented on the good feeling that came from helping someone that they at least had a connection to as compared to a general gift to a large relief agency. And some family members and friends, even facing their own challenges in life, did not hesitate to stop and send a donation to someone they barely knew.
While the quick response with financial aid was welcome and heartwarming, the response on the ground in Louisiana was every bit as impressive. As the water receded at Ashley’s home, volunteers from churches and community groups began to show up at the house spending many hours tearing out the drywall and removing damaged furniture and appliances and piling up all of it to be hauled away.
Social media played an important role as a friend of my son Tim’s from New Orleans noticed a post on Facebook by Ashley and rounded up other friends and spent a day helping. When a retired Marine and Katrina survivor read about it on Facebook, he asked his old Marine unit for volunteers, and they all raised their hand. Stationed in the area, the Marines came from all over the country and spent their day off at the home in Denham Springs pulling up the floors that had been destroyed by the rampaging, dirty river water.
The story around Baton Rouge is far from over, and there is a long road ahead for Wynne and Lindsey’s family to restore their lives. But the first steps have been taken, and a task that seemed somewhere between desperate and overwhelming is beginning to look possible.
The best part of this story is that it all happened because neighbors wanted to help neighbors even if they were more than a thousand miles away.