Recovery will happen, but local landscape is changed forever

The Livingston Parish News

Trillions of gallons of water were dropped on the Baton Rouge Metro area. As the water finally found its way out of the view of local citizens, it took much of the foundation upon which lives were built and left vast numbers of people wondering, ‘What now?’

The most interesting part about the flood is not the arrival of water. While the ‘Great Flood of 2016’ saw waters rise very quick – 10 feet in 10 hours – many knew that, eventually, liquid was going to reach them.

During the time that active flooding is in a person’s life, existence is simple – survive. From the time the first waves lap to the front door, to the time where the water rushes out into the Gulf of Mexico – leaving residents with nothing but filth to deal with – many are reduced to a very basic standard of living:

-Find shelter

-Find food

-Find water (that’s drinkable)

No, this time in people’s lives -once safe – is probably the easiest, filled with speculation at the worst. Its when the water recedes – leaving people, families, and communities broken – that the true tests come into play. Even with the waters gone, giving people a chance to return to homes and businesses to assess damage, the damage left by the flooding leaves many with more questions than ever.

What do you do with a house that flooded, and needs to dry out? What if my family does not have flood insurance? Even though the water has receded, where do I go now to find food, water, gas, shelter, clothes, cleaning materials – basic life essentials?

What of the biggest question of all – What do I do if the flood, in essence, flooded away my life? What if my family cannot afford to weather this tragedy?

A very large portion of Baton Rouge Metro area residents may be faced with that final question.

It took community leaders and the federal government nearly a year to assess the full extent of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. So, while early estimates may be a bit more accurate 10 years later – with better technological abilities and more definitive numbers – local and national on-lookers can expect a little fluctuation in the final tally regarding the number of people affected and the monetary amount of their suffering.

Initial figures, from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce (BRAC), claim roughly 110,000 homes in the area have been affected in some way.

The combined valued of those homes exceeds $20.7 billion.

However, BRAC does concede that some of those houses were in ‘flood-affected areas’ but may not have taken on water.

Needless to say, the Livingston Parish community was indeed the hardest hit. First reports from locals suggested roughly 86.6% of homes were located in flood affected areas. Only 21.7% of homes in Livingston Parish were covered by flood insurance.

Unfortunately, most of Livingston Parish was considered a ‘flood-affected’ area due to the rise of the Amite and the Tickfaw Rivers – both considered ‘border’ rivers that surround the parish.

That’s an economic gut-check for local individuals who saw nothing but growth in this area. From initial numbers, 78.3% of people will have to make a tough choice – eat savings to repair their homes, if they even have enough, or borrow on equity (again, if they have any) to get their houses back up to normal.

Hundreds of families will soon have to sit around the kitchen table and, if the cash doesn’t exist, make the tough decision to leave their homes to the bank and simply… walk away.

The potential reprecussions on a local economy are staggering – possibly similar to 2007 numbers. There’s a big problem this time, though – many of those houses are, now, going to require flood insurance.

In fact, the flood insurance requirement could now extend to much of Livingston Parish, making primary homes unaffordable for some, and camps unreliable for others.

Current models predict many people, displaced by Katrina, might finally return home to New Orleans after having lived in the Baton Rouge area for nearly a decade.

Others figure families will simply move farther east along I-12 into St. Tammany Parish, trying not to get too far away from a new place they called home.

Finally, those simply looking for the best public schools will scramble to find the next-best thing. Rental properties in unaffected areas – even here in Livingston Parish – will receive a huge boost, as people may not be able to afford new mortgages for some time.

These are just expectations for residents. Several thousand businesses in the Capital area were affected, not just by water – many businesses in Baton Rouge found out, the hard way, that the vast majority of their labor force lived in Livingston Parish.

All of this pales in comparison to the fact that many governmental entities have squabbled over drainage projects for years (See: Comite Diversion Canal). Their inactivity may be the cause of irreparable damage to the Livingston Parish community.

Not to mention the six foot ‘I-12 Dam’.

These are realistic scenarios that companies, families, and individuals will have to weigh when deciding whether or not they want to remain here.

Despite that, entities like the School Board and our local governments have worked hard to try and return to a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible.

That’s as best as can be expected at this point, because the situation here will get worse before it gets better. While the community will band together and hold on as best it can, there are tough times ahead.

While this area may, eventually, bounce back – the landscape is changed forever, from insurance to schools, and it will take a concerted effort by all citizens for Livingston Parish to return to form.

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