While rescue efforts continued Tuesday amid rising waters in southern parts of Livingston Parish, many Denham Springs residents returned home to assess the damage and begin the long, hard slog of recovery.
The Amite River at Denham Springs had fallen about 7 feet by Tuesday morning, dipping back below major flood stage and allowing flood waters to recede in many areas of the city. Law enforcement began allowing residents and supply deliveries to return to the city in the afternoon.
Parish President Layton Ricks said some 60 to 75 percent of homes were inundated parishwide, though the extent of loss remains unknown.
Once the calls for rescue fade, crews will begin a “Hurricane Katrina-style” house-to-house search for residents who may have been trapped by the rapid-rising waters said Brandi Janes, deputy director of the parish’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
In a parish with 135,000 residents and nearly 50,000 households, the search likely will require help from every law enforcement agency, as well as the Louisiana National Guard, Janes said.
The flood’s toll on area businesses also is likely to be extensive, Ricks said.
Juban Crossing’s developer estimated up to $30 million in lost revenue and property damage there, and many area businesses were ransacked by flooding, Ricks said, but Bass Pro and Sam’s in Denham Springs may have been spared.
Also spared were the Denham Springs-area homes of the three slain Baton Rouge law enforcement officers, none of which took on water, Ricks said.
“So there are miracles happening in this ordeal,” he said.
The majority of residents were not as lucky.
Water marks on homes around Denham Springs ranged from waist-high to the eaves, with some houses along River Road showing damage a foot above their second-story balconies. Ruined couches and mattresses and refrigerators encircled with duct tape lined nearly every residential street.
On Sunset Drive, off Cockerham Road, every appliance, piece of furniture and memento from inside Kenneth and Debbie Tate’s home sat under their carport and out on their lawn Tuesday.
“I’m lucky,” said Debbie Tate. “I got flood insurance – only because they made me get it three years ago when the flood maps changed. My mom and sister both have two feet of water. No insurance.”
Tate, 57, has lived in the Cockerham Road area since 1969 and on Sunset Drive since 1993, but never saw flooding like this before.
“I always said, ‘If I ever flood, there won’t be any Denham Springs left.’ Well, I was right,” she said.
On a fishing trip to Venice after Hurricane Katrina, Tate said, she had cried at the sight of the devastation there.
“I remember thinking how glad I was to not have to go through that,” she said Tuesday, fighting back tears. “And now this morning, I’m standing in line down at Immaculate Conception to get us something to eat.”
Neighbor Doug Miller, 63, said he moved to Louisiana from his native Illinois to escape the blizzards and tornadoes. The losses he and his neighbors had suffered in the flooding are devastating, he said.
Miller said it took less than an hour Saturday morning for the water to rise from the sidewalks – the highest point he had ever seen water get in his 22 years living on Sunset Drive – to the inside of their homes.
“Been nothing but turmoil ever since,” he said.
Farther up the road, Allison White, 57, sat under her carport, wringing water from towels.
“It’s devastating,” she said of the flooding, “but at least I get new floors, new cabinets, new furniture. That’s the attitude I’ve got to carry right now. I’ve yet to freak out about it. I’m sure that’ll happen when I’m alone.”
One bright spot that left her humorous Tuesday: A toddler-sized doll that nearly every adult in the family described as “freaky-looking” had survived the flood. The doll is beloved by White’s 4-year-old granddaughter, who wanted to know immediately if “Lucy” had made it through the storm.
“She loves that doll,” White said with a smile, before returning to the towels.