DENHAM SPRINGS — The beads of sweat rolling down the girls’ faces stood as proof of the work they were putting in.
“Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen,” one of them yelled, keeping track of how many bags the conveyor belt of arms had loaded into each car.
By noon Thursday, the 25 coaches and players from Denham Springs High School’s softball team had spent the last two hours at a sandbagging location on Government Drive, helping load bags into residents’ cars ahead of Tropical Storm Barry.
Head coach Leslie Yellott had been at the site the day prior and saw how firefighters volunteering to fill bags were overwhelmed, and how others like the elderly were left to lift the heavy bags themselves when the volunteers took a break.
“I just told my husband we needed to do something, so I sent out a message (Wednesday) night saying we would be putting in community service hours instead of practice today,” she said.
Some of the girls had thought their community service stint — served in lieu of their regularly-scheduled Crossfit workout — might be a nice break. They were wrong.
A man was killed as a result of flooding Thursday, Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome confirmed during a news conference, which …
“We thought it was going to be a bit laid-back but it’s been hard,” said sophomore Kalyn Yokley, wiping the sweat from her forehead as a new truck reversed into place at their loading zone. “It feels good to be out here, though.”
With a heat index in the triple digits and an unrelenting line of vehicles waiting to be loaded, the team and other volunteers from area churches and community groups soldiered on. Every hour that passed was another one closer to the projected Saturday landfall of Tropical Storm Barry, which by then is expected to be a hurricane.
They’ve finished up for the day, but did a quick prayer before they left. Some other volunteers who were sandbagging and even folks in line got out of their cars to join in. pic.twitter.com/TqGCzqwXYL— Emma Kennedy (@byemmakennedy) July 11, 2019
Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry said they’ve been overrun with residents seeking supplies ever since the city announced its sandbagging locations. As of Thursday, they had been through 15,000 sandbags and were expecting at least another 10,000 gone by Thursday evening.
"It's amazing, I don't want to use the word panic but I think people are being very, very cautious because of what they experienced in 2016," he said.
The Government Drive sandbagging location was a hub of August 2016 flood tales. Almost everyone getting sandbags shook their heads or clicked their tongues at the mention of what happened last time, many saying they wouldn’t let it happen again.
“You have to prepare for the worst and pray it won’t be that bad,” Denham Springs resident Barbara Simmons said as she watched family members haul sandbags into her truck.
The Simmons’ lost everything in 2016, and have only recently rebuilt their home on the same piece of land. She hopes sandbagging the doors and recent drainage work in her neighborhood will hold back any potential floodwaters, but there’s no saying until they go through it.
“They’ve sent out people to clean the ditches but you never know if it’s enough to help,” she said.
Rosa Parker has never sandbagged her home before. She didn’t flood in 2016 and hasn’t been prone to water intrusion before, but when the June 6 storm that left numerous homes flooded for the first time lapped at her door, she wasn’t going to take any chances.
“We’re too familiar with that rain now,” she said.
Landry, the city’s mayor, said officials have been taking trailers around the area to pick up tree limbs and other debris residents have been clearing from their yards, and crews have been clearing out culverts and ditches, finding items like old basketballs and tarps that could potentially cause flooding issues.
"Some people are just nervous. I've coined the phrase post-traumatic flood syndrome and as time goes on that type of anxiety goes away but then look what happened June 6, some of those people who flooded did not flood in 2016," he said.
"Those are the kinds of events that remind us mother nature is in control and we can only just put together the best plan we can to avoid catastrophes."