How’d You Get Out?

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By Mia Freneaux

    August 12 and 13 will never be forgotten by our community.  In those two days, about 75% of our city flooded.  To understand the magnitude of this disaster, here are some facts – in two days South Louisiana received the equivalent of 4 trillion gallons of water, That is enough water to satisfy the indoor water needs of New Orleans for 320 years.  The city of Watson received more rain in two days than the city of Los Angeles received in two YEARS.  Hundreds of Central's citizens had to be rescued from the floodwaters by the Sheriff's department, Central Fire Department, and the "Cajun Navy".   In the days following,  the phrase that was heard over and over was "How did you get out?"  Here are some stories that answer that question.
    Patty Fussell had just gone to Immanuel Baptist Church to charge her phone.  To her surprise, her father, mother, husband, sister, brother in law, and several other relatives showed up because their homes were flooding.  After spending the day moving furniture out of the water that was slowly filling the church, they realized that it soon would reach a dangerous level.  That was when nephew Chris Prestridge put out a call on Facebook: "My family is trapped in at Immanuel Baptist Church on Lovett Rd. They need help, water is rising and they need boats to get them out."  Answering the call – Chris' friends Dustin Harris, Justin Matthews, Jason Lasyone, Chad Porter and Bobby Lasyone.  The next thing Patty knew, a front end loader was pulling up at midnight into the flooded church parking lot.  All 8 members of the family squeezed into the bucket and were carried to safety.
    Sonny Spurlock had checked the road in front of his house in Tanglewood Subdivision and the drainage canal behind it last at 2:00 am Saturday morning.  "I was awakened at 7 by a woman banging on the door saying 'You have to get out!'  The water was coming over the threshold." He realized it was too late to get the cars out.  His daughter Emily located a friend with a Ford F-250 who carried Sonny, Emily, and 5 year old grandson Malachi to the shelter set up at LIfe Tabernacle Church on Hooper Road.  "As we crossed Blackwater Bayou, the current was so strong I was thinking what I would need to do to keep Malachi above water." After about 2 1/2 hours at the shelter, the church started taking on water.  A National Guard utility vehicle came to take away the elderly and the sick.  They said the truck would be back, but then one of them ran off the road due to the flooding.  They promised boats would be sent, but they never came.  The water started flooding the Fellowship Hall, so the approximately 50 evacuees retreated to the Sanctuary.  A Sheriff's Department helicopter landed briefly at the church, but it was only able to carry 2 persons and had to take off again.  9 inches of water had accumulated in the Sanctuary, and everyone had crowded onto the elevated area when the good news arrived.  An Army Blackhawk had managed to land on the only dry ground available.  Sonny and Emily had their hands full as they waded to the chopper keeping Malachi from being blown over between the force from the chopper blades and the floodwater.  The Blackhawk took 4 loads of evacuees off before it was Sonny's family's turn.  The soldiers had folded all the seats down so they could fit in as many as possible.  "There must have been a dozen of us who climbed in," shared Sonny.  "As it took off, it was just exhilarating.  I could feel the chop of the tail rotor all the way through my body like a heartbeat stronger than my own.  Malachi was on his knees looking out the window.  The extent of the flooding as seen from the air was just heartbreaking."  The Blackhawk touched down at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport just long enough to unload everyone, then took off immediately.  Sonny is very grateful to the soldiers, "they were so professional and kind", and to LIfe Tabernacle, whose pastor, incidentally, drove one of their buses around the neighborhoods picking up flood victims as long as he was able. 
    For those in Jackson Park (of local TV fame), the water came out of nowhere and rapidly filled the streets on Friday.  This was not river floodwater, but overflow from storm drainage.  By noon Friday the water on the back street was chest deep and rising.  The 8 foot deep drainage canal that runs along the side of the subdivision was overflowing its banks, something it had never done during Hurricanes Andrew, Katrina, Gustav, and Isaac.  The Sheriff's Department sent one of their huge utility vehicles to start evacuating the population, many of whom are elderly.  It was touching to see the care and kindness the deputies showed these soaking wet, bewildered residents.  Pets were carefully lifted and handed to people as they sat high above the floodwater.  Many elderly had to be practically hauled by hand into the high sitting vehicle.  Due to the deputies' diligence, all were safely rescued. 
        Central resident Kristy Simmons is a nationally recognized Neo-natal surgical nurse at Womens Hospital.  She can now add “published essayist” to her many honors. This was written on August 14:  “I never understood just exactly what a flash flood was until last night. Water starts seeping into your house and you try to stop the flow but it keeps coming in. Your entire family goes into triage mode trying to save pictures, clothes, books that have been in the family for years and crazy items that have no value to anyone but you. You elevate these items on tables, chairs, and even put stuff in the attic with things you think you can salvage. Your try to elevate your cars but the water is rushing by too fast as you realize your family just lost all modes of transportation. After a few hours you realize you can’t change the flow of the river which is now running through your front yard. You put the dogs in the car for safety. You call 911, the sheriff’s office,and they say they will try to come and never show up. Car horns stars going off as neighbors’ cars start taking water. Then your car’s horn starts beeping and you can’t turn it off with the car keys. It’s an eerie sound along with the rushing water. Then there is silence again as everyone’s car is flooded. The cars are taking on water so you move the dogs to the boat and thank God you have a boat. You decide you will never live without a boat for the rest of your life. As is the sun starts to fall you decide to just grab the clothes on your back and your dogs and head to the fishing boat you almost sold last year. Your family can’t get the boat off of the trailer. Your neighbors – I love this family- John Glissman and his two sons John and Jace whom I have nursed through scrapes and burns and sports injuries, help you get your boat off of the trailer manually. Right before you leave you realize you have to go back in the house for that one sentimental item you don’t want to leave behind- for me it was my pearl necklace and bracelet my husband gave me on our wedding day. It is a sad sight to see your home you have lived in for 30 years in 3 feet of water. Tears come to your eyes as grandkids’ toys float by as I try to make it to my bedroom to get my jewelry. Our family gets in our fishing boat which we just repaired last month- thank you God!  After this you ride as fast as you can in a bayliner boat through uncharted waters, through your neighbor’s yard, over tops of trees, and realize you can’t figure out which water way is the Amite river. You pull up your location on GPS and your boat is no where near what used to be the river. God and GPS save your life as the boat starts taking on water and you ride as fast as you can under power lines, along side of flooded homes, cars, as you watch everything you have accumulated in your 56 years of life flash away besides your boat. You get to the main intersection in town and the light is red and your family laughs because you can’t stop the boat and you have to run the red light. But hey, red lights are for cars right? Suddenly you realize you have the only things that matter in the boat with you- your husband and son and your two dogs and the clothes on your back. This is what a flash flood is and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. God is good.”
    This article would not be complete without mentioning the Cajun Navy.  The Central Flotilla, made up of intrepid citizens using their own boats, weaved their way around wreckage and submerged vegetation in the driving rain to pluck stranded folks from attics and atop roofs. No definite figures are known, but it is estimated that the number of people rescued by this unofficial group is in the hundreds easily. Often using Facebook to get notifications of those needing help, they demonstrated the very best of our city – independent, motivated, and CARING.  We can't list all of them here because we don't have most of the names of these brave folks – but those you've rescued know you, and none of us will ever forget you.