After the storm
The arrival of August brings many things to Ascension Parish.
It brings the most blistering and unforgiving heat of the year, it brings the start of school and the start of the high-school football season.
But it now brings something else. It brings the fresh memory of one of the worst natural disasters in Louisiana history.
The parish has been lucky in the past. It was able to avoid the destructive effects of nasty weather events like Hurricane Katrina. However, it wasn’t able to elude the devastating aftermath of last year’s flood.
This week marks the one-year anniversary.
It really doesn’t seem that long ago. I hate to sound cliche, but it seems like it was just yesterday.
I remember covering a signing at St. Amant High School on a Thursday evening. The heavy rain had just begun, but like many, I thought nothing of it. I thought it was just typical Louisiana summer weather.
Little did I know that, that rain would rage on for 48 straight hours and produce over 20 inches of precipitation. Less than a week after covering something at the school, it was submerged with water.
The flooding spread quickly.
By Friday, places like Baker and parts of Zachary were under water. By Saturday, much of Baton Rouge, Denham Springs and Central were all under water as well.
And by the time the start of the week rolled around, the waters had washed their way through Ascension Parish—with most of its destructive path being in the St. Amant community.
Along with the school, many houses and businesses were flooded. Even “The Pit” was under four to five feet of water.
St. Amant head coach David Oliver’s house was flooded, and he estimated that a third of his players had suffered the same fate.
First-year Donaldsonville head coach Brian Richardson had his home flooded as well. He lives in Millerville, one of the hardest hit areas in Baton Rouge.
A year later, it’s hard not to think about the many negatives. It’s hard not to think about the heartache and loss that came with those flood waters.
But it’s much easier to think about the perseverance of the parish. It’s easier to think of their determination, their heart and their will to help their neighbors, to help complete strangers in the midst of their plight.
Football players from rival Dutchtown came to Coach Oliver’s house and helped him gut it. A family from rival East Ascension opened their home to he and his family.
Coach Richardson’s players came to Millerville and helped him work on his home. When they were done, they helped clear out a house that belonged to the parents of one of their Donaldsonville teachers.
From there, they went on to help complete strangers on the same street.
Players from Ascension Catholic made the trip to St. Amant and helped put up sandbags at The Pit.
The Church Academy served as on outpost for those affected by the flood, They provided hot meals and supplies, and even sent out volunteer manual labor.
The LeBlanc Food Store Jamboree between East Ascension, Dutchtown and Port Allen awarded all of their proceeds to St. Amant High.
Dutchtown went a step further and shared their school with Gator students, until they were finally able to return to St. Amant in the spring.
Also, with the Gold Dome flooded, the St. Amant volleyball and basketball teams used Dutchtown’s gym for home games throughout the year.
This horrible event brought out the best in people. It brought out the best in the community.
Friends, neighbors, strangers, rivals, they all came together for a greater good. They all came together to help rebuild houses, to help rebuild the parish, to help rebuild dwindling hope.
A year later, many things have been repaired. Many things have gotten back to normal, while many things will never be the same.
There is still work to be done, but the people of this parish have proven that they’re willing to do that work with no questions asked.
A year after the Great Flood of 2016, Ascension Parish will no longer be solely known for the world’s best jambalaya or the area’s tremendous athletics. It will now be known for its generosity, its unselfishness, and most of all, its resolve.