So this happened.
It happened in August, and it is now October. Since then, I haven't written a blog post or word of fiction. I started to, many times. I thought about how good and cathartic it would be to chronicle the whole thing as it was happening, and about how great it would be to work it into my fiction. I started and stopped, started and stopped. I told myself it was because I was so focused on cleanup and recovery, and, to some extent, that's true. That's not the whole story, though.
Somehow, this thing, this flood, has rendered me mute. I don't plan to delve into the hows or the whys, though I know I probably should at some point. I just want to write again, and I believe there is only one way to do that.
I need to tell this story, before I can tell any others. I need to acknowledge it, not just to the world, but to myself. I'm writing this post because I need to say, I know I've been quiet these last few months, and this is where I've been. I need to forgive myself for this silence.
So here it goes.
It started, as most floods do, with the rain. A low pressure system that slid across the gulf coast from east to west, moving slower, and slower, until it stopped, on August 11, right over south Louisiana. In some places it dropped 30" of rain. Here, in south central LA, we got anywhere from 15 to 25". It dumped three times as much rain as Katrina; literally trillions of gallons of water.
And I live in an area that is designated as a floodway.
Now normally, that doesn't mean very much. The land my house is on is built up. The house I live in has been here for 100 years. Water has never gotten higher than the driveway. Never say never, though, right?
On Friday, the yard flooded, which is completely par for the course as far as heavy rains go around here. I went for a walk with our dog Max down the driveway to collect the mail, and there was nothing to indicate that this would be anything more than an inconvenience for us. I read with horror the stories of people being awakened in the night to water rising so fast they barely had time to get out of their homes, and I felt incredibly grateful that we had been spared.
And then all that water started to drain.
By Saturday evening, the Bayou St. Clair and the Bayou Vermillion, which are just a few miles from where I live, were full to overflowing. Water ran over roads and into the deep swamps on either sides, which themselves soon filled. At this point there wasn't anywhere else to go, and so the water just stacked up, back the way it had come, straight to the floodway that drains this area.
Straight through our land.
All day Sunday we watched it flow backwards, filling the pasture, the driveway, the gardens. My husband, who had been in the UK the previous week, only got home because a generous neighbor with a truck offered to pick him up from the airport. When he did get home, we spent the rest of the day watching the flood as it inched forward, hour after hour.
Even as it began to overflow the pool, I just kept thinking, ok, it's going to stop. It's going to stop now. But, of course, it didn't stop. We stayed up all night, sleeping in shifts, watching it get higher and higher.
By Sunday evening we knew the horses would soon be in danger. After a few frantic hours of searching for a safe haven for them, another generous neighbor offered to keep them at her place on dry land, and so my daughter walked them over, water up to their knees.
By Monday, we knew that it was over. Though we were terrified, my husband loaded up our three children and all of our indoor pets, and managed to drive through the water to board the pets and take our kids to a hotel. I stayed behind in case he couldn't get back, watching the truck move through water that covered the wheels completely. I've never felt more relief than I did when he called to say they were safe.
And the water was STILL rising.
Just in time, he managed to come back and get me, and we left our home for a hotel in Lafayette. The next morning we bought chest waders and went back, something we did every other day for the next ten days.
The water didn't stop rising until Thursday, when there was 10" in our garage. Thankfully, our home, which is raised, didn't take on water, though it did soak in through the floor joists and warp our floors. We weren't able to come home for over a week, and the water didn't totally subside for another 10 days after that.
In retrospect I realize that we were lucky in many ways. We were all safe, our animals were safe, our house was still livable. This is much more than many people had. Still, it was one of the most terrifying and traumatizing things I've ever been through.
We are rebuilding like the Six Million Dollar Man: better and stronger. We're raising the air conditioner and the sewage system above flood levels, because we realize that, all things considered, this will probably become the new normal every few years. Next time, we are determined that it won't catch us unprepared. We are determined to stay.
But that's the way of water, I think.