Louisiana town was flooded six months ago. Now the water is back, and even higher



The skyline of New Orleans is seen in the distance down the London Avenue Canal. (Chris Adams/McClatchy DC/TNS)

FRENCH SETTLEMENT, La. — Floodwater in Dale Aydell’s house was waist-deep Wednesday.

Aydell, 64, a retired state worker, grew up in this Cajun village settled by his ancestors as a Spanish land grant in 1809. Now his home sits surrounded by a lake.

“I can’t get in until probably tomorrow,” Aydell said as he conferred with neighbors at the St. Joseph Catholic Church hall, a makeshift donation center, soup kitchen and temporary shelter.


“Ain’t but one way to get to his house: That’s by boat,” said Deacon Jimmy Little, 72, as state fish and wildlife officers nearby prepared to set out by boat delivering food to those still stranded.

As fatal flooding crept from Baton Rouge to suburbs like French Settlement in Livingston Parish this week, a dank tide of murky swap water flooded about 75 percent to 80 percent of the 140,000 residents’ homes, according the sheriff’s spokeswoman, Lori Steele.

The parish was doused with biblical rains — 2 feet in 24 hours, swelling the Amite River beyond its banks and breaking a record set in 1962.

The flooding is blamed for 11 deaths, and at least 30,000 people have been rescued across Louisiana.

Flooding washed out interstates, closed more than a dozen parish schools indefinitely and forced open graves at cemeteries, sending coffins floating away.

Gov. John Bel Edwards deployed the National Guard, but sometimes even the guard’s heavy equipment became mired in black bayou muck.


In Livingston Parish, stranded locals summoned their own “Cajun navy,” hundreds of volunteer boaters who aided law enforcement in rescuing at least 15,000 people — many from attics and rooftops.

They also delivered donated sausage to the shelter at St. Joseph’s, which refused to close its doors even when the electricity and air conditioning failed.

French Settlement’s 1,000 working-class residents have been flooded before — just six months ago. But not with such extensive damage.

“Town hall is waist-deep. Our museum, which has all our history, got water. We can’t get to that yet,” Mayor Toni Guitrau said as she stopped by the church hall to check on relief efforts.

Her home was flooded with a few inches of water.

“Police officers are using their own boats” to rescue people, said Assistant Police Chief Lawrence Callender, adding that some officer have flooded homes.

David Thompson, 53, was taken by boat to the shelter Wednesday from his home after it flooded and lost running water.

“I never thought that it would get this high,” Thompson said. Pointing to his belongings packed in a lunch bag, he added, “It’s a humbling experience.”

The village’s volunteer fire chief said he expects to see more rescues later this week.

“There are still areas we can’t get to but by boat, and there will be for a few days,” said Chief Alan Guitreau as he greeted a helicopter landing behind the church to evacuate a resident with a heart condition Wednesday afternoon.

Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks, whose home in Denham Springs flooded, had to be boated in to pick up blood pressure medications. He met with FEMA officials this week, who he said have started assessing damages.

“We’re going to see an unprecedented help from FEMA,” Ricks said. “We’ll work together to try to get people into their homes as soon as possible.”

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Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was expected to visit Louisiana on Thursday to review federal relief efforts.

Aydell, the retired state worker, lives on Good Time Road, former home of the Good Time Sawmill that closed with others in the 1920s as industry left and French Settlement became a commuter town.

“It’s not a good time right now,” he said.


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