Only one relic in Chloe Olden’s home survived the flood waters that rushed over large swaths of Baton Rouge the past few days: a decoration showing a picture of her and her son and three inspirational messages, including one that said “choose happiness.”
As she looked through the remains of her flooded home Tuesday in Baker, residents in other parts of the parish also returned to their homes to find treasures and assess damage on items ranging from a 1941 Chevrolet to a dog that went missing in the flood. Many said they regretted never purchasing or dropping their flood insurance as they tried to pick through the remains of their homes and salvage what they could.
Choosing happiness, as Olden's picture frame suggests, is the only choice she says she has left. She and her family spent the day ripping up flooring, carrying furniture to the yard and mopping the puddles of water still in the house. All nine houses on Olden’s street flooded. Some residents had yet to return, others were already putting couches, cabinetry and other furniture out by the street.
“Happiness and faith in God is all we got,” she said with a smile. It's a refrain people have been repeating across the parish.
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Parts of north Baton Rouge along Winbourne Avenue and North Foster Drive were still under water Tuesday, even though water had receded at least 6 feet. The same was true on the south end of the parish, with boaters launching off along Hoo Shoo Too Road just east of Tiger Bend Road.
"Like a dummy, in January I paid (my house) off, and I didn't want to spend another $800 in flood insurance," said Hayden Tucker, 58, standing outside his newly-remodeled, but flooded, house on Conrad Drive in north Baton Rouge. He'd recently installed new windows, new siding, new plumbing, new electrical wiring.
Now, his dog is missing. He said his cat, who he tried to rescue, "committed suicide" into the water.
"The last 15 years I've been paying for flood insurance. I grew up in this neighborhood, and this house has never flooded," he said. "So I took a chance. Stupid."
Jared Granier also had to paddle in a kayak to reach his Woodlawn Acres Avenue home in south Baton Rouge for the fourth day in a row. A gym mat on the hard floor of a ballroom dance studio he owns on Jones Creek Road has acted as his bed for the past few nights.
He said his house took on around 7 feet of water and he wanted to get paperwork on Tuesday. Granier noted that storage facilities, like hotels, are filling up across the city and posing problems for people toting items out of their ruined homes.
"Yeah, we can get our stuff out, but where the hell do we bring it?" he said.
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Water had finally drained in other parts of the parish.
Many of the homeowners in areas swamped by the Amite River during the historic floods — along Harrell's Ferry, O'Neal Lane, Old Hammond or Sherwood Forest — were finally able to enjoy dry land en route to their homes. But many also said they have no flood insurance and are anticipating a months-long slog and huge repair bills.
"Even in a hundred-year flood, this isn't supposed to get water. I never even thought about getting flood insurance," said Jonathan Scott, who lives in the Arbor Walk subdivision off Harrell's Ferry with his wife, Kylie. They fled in a truck through waist-deep water Saturday.
Bill Chenevert was another who returned to his two-story house Tuesday on North Harrell's Ferry Road. He said he couldn't begin to tally his losses among cars, antique furniture, appliances and family keepsakes that were not insured against the flooding, and he jokingly stuck a "for sale by owner" sign in his front lawn.
"They told us it wasn't a flood zone. We hadn't even fully moved in yet," said Chenevert, who bought the home with his wife, Sandra, in the spring. "It's going to take quite a while to get this place cleaned up."
In the Sherwood Forest neighborhood, cars and trucks with flooded engines dotted roads and ditches, abandoned when rising waters forced many into boats to flee. Motorboats put to work during the rescue effort had come to rest on sidewalks and along the shoulders of busy thoroughfares, still tied to street signs and light posts.
Eight deaths are now attributed to the storms and flooding in south Louisiana.
The flooding may not be over yet, but concerns ebbed slightly on Tuesday about backwater overflowing from bayous, creeks and other water sources in Baton Rouge into streets and residences.
Backwater flooding happens when smaller water sources that normally drain into rivers like the Amite can no longer feed into the larger rivers, which are full of water themselves. Bayous and creeks then spill out onto streets instead, such as Bayou Fountain running onto Burbank Drive or Claycut Bayou flowing near Woman's Hospital.
City-parish Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel said Tuesday he is cautiously optimistic that future backwater flooding might not be as severe as originally anticipated. But he said people will know for sure within the next 24 hours.
"We were watching the crest of all of the floods heading south and knowing Bayou Fountain and Manchac will not be able to flood into the Amite," Daniel said. "We were fearful of the flooding that will take place. But now, just observing the flood, just observing the water heights, we're feeling a little better about it."
Daniel said city-parish officials are still trying to tally a damage assessment of how hard of a hit East Baton Rouge has taken.