We had been warned all week about a historic rainfall event heading our way, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in the studio of WWL-TV, waiting for my first interview, that I realized how bad it was truly going to be. I watched as the weather updates scrolled across a nearby screen warning of torrential downpours, flash floods, and the potential for more flooding even after the rain event ended.
The rain had held off so far, one of the production assistants told me, but later that night, we’d be in for a wild ride. I drove home that Thursday morning under high winds and overcast skies. The system had yet to arrive – it was still pummeling northern Louisiana.
That night and early into Friday morning, the rains arrived. It was almost like a hurricane. I could hear the rain pelting my windows and walls. I wondered if I’d wake up to water at my doorstep.
The storms raged off and on all night. When I woke up, to my relief, the neighborhood had handled the water well. There was still a steady rain, but the heavy stuff seemed over. Crisis averted, I thought.
I was preparing for my book signing the next day when I got the phone call. The sergeant over Criminal Patrol in the Reserve Division of the Sheriff’s Office said that the areas to the north – Covington, Folsom, etc. – were experiencing heavy flooding. They needed all available manpower.
I turned on the news to see the extent of the flooding. All of the water that had been dumped on north Louisiana was heading to Southeast Louisiana. Rivers were at historic flood stages and dumping into nearby roads and subdivisions. The water was rising and it was going to get worse.
I arrived at the Law Enforcement Center just after five PM. The mood was serious. Deputies and first responders were returning after being out in the weather and flood waters all day. Full time and Reserve deputies were starting to show up. Everyone was focused on the mission at hand. There were nearly two hundred calls for rescues ongoing. People needed help. I suddenly had a front row seat to watch real heroes at work.
As others started showing up, assignments were handed out. Some went out to do rescues in boats. Others went out to do traffic control where roads had been shut down. And then they pulled out the heavy equipment.
Military vehicles – five ton troop transports and Humvees – would be critical in saving lives because they could go places patrol vehicles couldn’t get near. They were the backbone of our rescue operation.
My first assignment of the evening was a supply run. Using an F350 dually, another deputy and I had to go to the Red Cross, pick up cots, medical supplies, and food, and deliver them to Folsom, Louisiana. Normally, that would’ve been a thirty minute drive, but with the flooded roads and heavy traffic, it took much longer.
Along the way, I saw more examples of heroics. In some of the neighborhoods we passed, police and fire were out braving the elements, getting people to safety. Some were busy pushing disabled vehicles out of the way to clear the road for first responders, something we appreciated.
It took us two hours, crossing flooded roadways and maneuvering through traffic to get to the shelter in Folsom. I saw more shining examples of humanity – volunteers who were working at the shelter, helping to set up cots and comforting the victims of the horrible flooding. It was inspiring.
The flooding grew worse as we made our way back to the LEC. When we arrived, water was now rushing into the parking lot. In the course of two hours, it had gone from completely dry to two feet of water and climbing.
Again, I watched the heroes at work. They never wavered or faltered. The command center had to be abandoned, but contingency plans were enacted. We moved all of the equipment and vehicles to a nearby secondary location on higher ground. The show had to go on. People who had been out there all day just wanted to go out and help more people. Reserve deputies who get paid nothing left their paying jobs to answer the call and serve their hurting community.
When the secondary command center was set up, my partner and I were given our next assignment. We were given a Humvee, told to fuel it up, get on the radio, and start listening to calls for rescues.
It was chaos everywhere. The waters rushing from the north were swelling the nearby rivers, draining south toward the Gulf. There was a clear line of neighborhoods and houses directly in the flood’s path. The five ton trucks went where no other vehicles could, sometimes being pushed to the limit to save people. The sheepdogs answered the call with little regard for their own safety.
Our first call was preempted by one of those five ton trucks. A vehicle had gotten trapped in the rapidly rising water. We arrived on scene just behind it, as deputies were helping the women out of their truck. It was completely dark out. The power had gone out early on, and there was no moon. The water had gotten so deep that it was hard to tell what was road and what wasn’t.
We rerouted to the second call. Routes had to be discussed and planned, as many bridges and roads were completely washed away or unpassable. It was a slow, methodical journey to our first pickup.
Upon arrival at the neighborhood, we ran into other first responders. Firefighters were already on scene, going door to door in the nearly four foot waters, knocking on houses to see if people were ok.
We slowly maneuvered our way through the deep waters, following one of the responders as he walked the path in front of us to ensure we stayed on solid ground. He led us to the back of the neighborhood, where an elderly couple and family were trapped by the waters.
The firefighters slogged through the water, carrying people, animals and bags while helping people into the back of the Humvee. The water was rising and flooding in the neighborhoods was getting worse. I heard more calls for rescues on the radio.
We picked up eight people and secured them in the back before making our way back out of the neighborhood. In some cases, the only way to tell that we were still on the road was to stay between the mailboxes which were barely sticking up above the water.
We maneuvered through the traffic and closed roads as we brought the people to the nearest shelter. When we arrived, I saw more volunteers trying to comfort the devastated families. People who had lost everything except for what they could carry were sitting about, not sure what would happen next.
We cleared the scene and headed back to the same neighborhood. As we headed that way, we heard that a boat with first responders had flipped and three deputies were in the water. I listened on the edge of my seat as a rescue was coordinated. I breathed a sigh of relief when they were all accounted for.
More of the neighborhood was under water when we returned. The first call was for an elderly couple that had gotten trapped in a vehicle while trying to escape. When we arrived, the vehicle was empty and blocking the roadway. We walked the rest of the way on foot until meeting up with the same firefighters as before.
They were still busy going house to house. My partner made contact with the elderly couple – both in their nineties –as I discussed things with the firefighter. He had an additional ten people that needed help. The Humvee would be loaded out as much as we could.
As my partner went to another nearby address, I started to help the elderly couple. The walk to where we’d left the Humvee was too far. We had to get their vehicle out of the way. Luckily, it still started and I was able to move it off to the side.
By the time I moved the Humvee back to their location, the firefighter had returned with another elderly woman. We helped the three into the back as best we could and then set off for another family farther down the street. They had an infant and small children and needed to evacuate.
I followed the firefighter as we made our way down the street. I tested the limits of the Humvee as I watched the water rise from his knee level to waist level. By the time we made it to the house, water was spilling over the high door sills of the Humvee into the cab.
We loaded everyone up. By the time it was all done, we had eleven people and two dogs total. They crammed onto the small benches as best they could, leaving everything behind.
It was nearly 1 AM by the time we dropped everyone off at the shelter and made it back to the new command center. I talked to the crew that had flipped in the rescue boat. They were ok, but the dog that had caused it by jumping off during the rescue hadn’t made it. The deputies were all ready and willing to go back out there, but the supervisor erred on the side of caution and told them to go home.
Knowing I had an event the next day, the supervisor also cleared me off to go home. He had enough people and the rescues had slowed down for a bit. I went home to get some sleep.
My partner stayed out for several more hours, and then came back later on Saturday, working all day.
As I got through my first book signing on Saturday, I received another text requesting to come back out and help. As before, I arrived at 5 PM.
When I arrived at the command center on day two, the scene was much like before. The mood was serious and people were determined. The ones that were just showing up were ready to go out and make a difference. The ones that were just getting off reluctantly went home.
My new partner and I went to help with a neighborhood in a different part of the parish. The water in the neighborhood was too deep for a Humvee, so the fleet of five-ton trucks ran constantly back and forth delivering people to safety. It was an impressive display, but also very sad to watch families clinging to what was left of their possessions as they were shuttled off to shelters.
The rescue efforts went on for most of the night. We patrolled nearby neighborhoods in the Humvee, looking for any people that needed help as the water headed that way. By 10 PM, the rescue was complete. First responders had gone door to door to check on each house.
We went back to the Command Center as a convoy. By 11 PM, we were released. “Be ready for the east side of the parish Sunday and Monday,” they told us, “we’re expecting historic flooding there too.” Everyone nodded.
Six more deputies were called out on Sunday to patrol the eastern half of the parish, standing by for rescues as the flood waters approached. They worked throughout the night, patrolling neighborhoods as reports came in that the Pearl River would reach historic levels.
On Monday, I received another phone call. Flooding was expected in more populated areas like Slidell. It was time to go back to work.
I arrived at the Slidell Law Enforcement Center around 5:30 PM. People were tired. Some of the full timers had been working with few breaks since Friday. My partner Friday night, a fellow Reserve Deputy, had worked nearly thirty hours over the weekend and was back for more. No one complained. No one wondered when it would be over. Everyone just wanted to help.
My partner from Saturday night and I went back out in a Humvee. There were no active calls for rescues, but we patrolled neighborhoods with water just in case. We stopped and chatted with residents that had been living in the area for decades. They had seen flooding like this before, but were hopeful it wasn’t as bad as reports suggested. They were thankful that we were out and being proactive.
Later in the night, the floodwaters moved farther south. We relocated to Slidell and began patrolling the subdivisions along with another unit. The water was much higher and still rising. Kids were driving around sightseeing in big trucks and ATVs. We were called out to ask them to leave.
After a couple more hours of patrolling, my partner and I headed back to the LEC. The National Guard was staged in numerous locations, ready to assist with evacuations. Units stayed around the clock in shifts to assist people who needed help evacuating. Luckily, the flooding wasn’t nearly as rapid and unexpected as what we saw in Covington on Friday and Saturday nights.
That’s not to say that the threat is over. As of this writing, the water is still rising and many homes could still be at risk. I have no doubt that the brave men and women who’ve been at work for the last several days will continue to answer the call, because that’s just what they do.
I had the unique honor to see that call answered firsthand, and it’s important to bring to light what first responders and law enforcement have done for their community. And equally important are the firefighters and EMS who have also been working around the clock. There’s so much tension and “cop hating” going on, but times like these show that we are one community, and the men and women who wear the badge are committed to serving.
It was an honor and a privilege to work alongside these types of people that run toward danger. Although this natural disaster is a horrific tragedy that has affected so many lives, the response from the community and people going out there to help, really restores one’s faith in humanity. To see people come together, regardless of their role, to give and aid comfort to those who need it most, is just inspiring.
Every single one of them is a hero, and none of them wear capes.