LAFAYETTE, La. — Joseph Pickney took one, long look into Lafayette’s Derby Heights subdivision Monday morning and sighed.
It’s been more than a week since he’s slept in his bed in his Chadwick Drive home of 16 years. It may take much longer until he does.
Pickney is one of dozens of homeowners off Carmel Drive whose homes are unreachable because of floodwater from the Aug. 11-13 storms in south central Louisiana. Perhaps 40,000 homes have been affected by flooding that resulted from rainfall of 20-25 inches in many places between McComb, Mississippi and Jennings, Louisiana.
This week, Pickney and his neighbors were among the smaller group of residents yet unable to reach their property. Water into Derby Heights remained waist deep, he said; on Monday, he had no access to a boat to make his way through the flooded subdivision streets.
The National Weather Service reported Monday morning that the swollen Vermilion River near Derby Heights was recorded at 16.5 feet Monday morning — still above major flood stage and just a foot below last week’s crest. It’s not expected to descend to moderate flood stage until Wednesday morning and may not leave Derby Heights until at least the weekend.
“It’s a situation where the water has to go down in the Vermilion,” said State Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, who represents Derby Heights in the Louisiana Legislature. “It’s not a matter of drainage but of capacity to drain.”
That’s true, said Donald Jones, National Weather Service forecaster in the Lake Charles office.
“The simple answer is there is just so much water,” Jones said. “It’s a physics matter. The river can only fit so much water and all of the water must drain from all of the neighborhoods.”
Landry, formerly the head of Louisiana State Police, said state and federal officials have responded as nimbly and efficiently as he can remember in his long public safety career. But the issue is not drainage, it’s river capacity. The river can only handle so much water.
Pickney said he has applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency aid, but it may take awhile for that. Meanwhile, he said, he’s sleeping where he can.
He travels back to the Carmel Drive every day, he says, to look into the subdivision and see if it's reachable. No such luck, not on Monday.
Debra Living, who lives across Carmel Drive, has been out of her home for more than a week. She said she applied for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency; FEMA officials told her she is eligible for help to stay at hotels, but the hotels say she is not eligible, she said. So she sleeps where friends and family can accommodate her.
Her home is not flooded but her property is; she cannot get to the home, located deep on a flooded lot. She owns property next door, too: a trailer where her daughter lives and had to abandon and a trailer for rent, which is unoccupied. Neither is reachable.
Patricia Arceneaux was also at the water’s edge Monday, staring from Carmel Drive toward her Armenia Avenue address. The water was hardly moving, she said, but her home, perhaps a hundred yards away, was that far beyond her access.
Flood waters remain high along Carmel Dr. August 22, 2016. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)
The flooding occurred so quickly she lost her car and some pets, she said. She said she’ll seek a FEMA voucher for a hotel; she hasn’t gotten it yet.
People tell her she’s lucky to be alive, she said, that all she has lost is material possessions. But Arceneaux, who is on disability, said if you’ve lost what you’ve owned, it hurts.
Standing along the road, she pointed to her exposed feet, marked by countless ant bites. She’s concerned about what damage might have occurred to her home, including insect infestation, as a result of the extended exposure to floodwater.
She’s right to be concerned, said Joseph Flowers, a manager at Home Depot in Lafayette. If the homes are getting no airflow, then bacteria will be enclosed and can spread all the way to the attic. That requires a lot of repair, or even rebuilding, he said.
Claudette Hanks Reichel, a housing specialist for the Louisiana State University AgCenter, said some homes can be recovered even after prolonged exposure to floodwater, but recovery becomes more problematic as days slip by. Sometimes, the cost of recovery is too dear; if affordable, it may be better to rebuild.
If the foundation is OK and construction is of solid lumber, homes are usually cleanable, she said. But if you cannot afford an expert to deal with mold remediation, it may take more time and cost than is reasonable.
“Bricks can dry. Everything porous other than solid wood needs to go. You need to gut walls, and you must go above the wicking line,” she said.
But for now neighbors must wait for nature and the water to take their course.