The year 2016 may go in the books as one of the worst on record for many residents of Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes, as a relentless onslaught of floods, violence and political turmoil wreaked havoc on the area. But the year also included startling discoveries that brought international attention and a renewed sense of wonder to the piney woods of Livingston.

The floods

Torrential rainfall swelled area rivers and sent catastrophic floodwaters coursing through homes, businesses and public buildings, not once but twice this year.

In March, thousands of residents were driven from their homes, as Louisiana National Guard soldiers, deputies and firefighters rescued those trapped by the rising waters. But while the storm swamped hundreds of houses, especially south of Interstate 12, it stopped short of causing the near-record river heights initially predicted.

Those records, set mostly during the flood of 1983, were shattered in August, when another round of storms dropped more than 20 inches of rain in three days, causing 13 deaths and about $8.7 billion in property damage to some 100,000 or more structures across the Baton Rouge area.

Four months later, many residents remain uprooted from their homes, scattered among family, hotels and recreational vehicles, and pushing once again through the long, hard slog of recovery.

The ambush

A lone gunman’s ambush on Baton Rouge law enforcement in July sent shockwaves through Livingston Parish, home to the three officers who were killed and a fourth who was grievously wounded and remains in recovery.

Baton Rouge police officers Matthew Gerald, 41, and Montrell Jackson, 32, and East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola, 45, died in the July 17 attack on Airline Highway not far from police headquarters, the scene of often tense protests over the July 5 killing of Alton Sterling.

Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Tullier, who was shot in the head, shoulder and stomach during the attack, spent nearly four months at Our Lady of the Lake, defying early prognoses and fighting to regain consciousness before being moved in November to TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital in Houston.

The attack hit home for many Livingston Parish residents who grew up, socialized or worshipped with the officers.

“It woke me up to the somber fact that events, even those happening next door or hundreds of miles away, in an instant can change my life and the lives of those around me,” Parish President Layton Ricks said at the time.

The discoveries

A group of scientists working at a pair of observatories in Livingston Parish and Washington state announced in February that they had confirmed Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity by detecting the waves created by two black holes merging 1.3 billion years ago.

The discovery marked the world’s first direct detection of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by violent and energetic events like colliding neutron stars, supernovae or the birth of the universe itself.

It also brought renewed attention to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and the collaboration of 1,000-plus scientists who have spent decades listening to the cosmos for those cataclysmic collisions.

The observatory, a billion-dollar project funded through the National Science Foundation, has announced two confirmed detections of gravitational waves thus far and recently began scanning the skies for more waves after performing a round of equipment upgrades and fine-tuning.

Scientists say their research has opened a new window to the universe, allowing them to study space in ways previously only theorized.

The raid

A broadening investigation into a federal drug task force led to an FBI raid of the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office and Hammond Police Department earlier this month.

The U.S. Justice Department’s nearly year-old probe has centered on a Drug Enforcement Administration task force accused of stealing cash from drug dealers, selling confiscated narcotics and tampering with witnesses.

The FBI has been reviewing cases that suspended task force member Chad Scott, who previously worked for the Tangipahoa sheriff, investigated over more than a decade. Two former members of the task force -- both of whom worked for the sheriff -- are facing federal charges, and one pleaded guilty earlier this year to state drug conspiracy charges.

The daylong raid on Dec. 15 resulted in the seizure of numerous case files, cellphones and computers, including that of Sheriff Daniel Edwards.

Edwards, who held a brief news conference the day after the raid, said his office is cooperating fully with federal authorities and that no one in his department, other than the two men already charged, has been told they are targets of an investigation.

Gov. John Bel Edwards later defended his brother during a Dec. 21 news conference reflecting on the events of 2016, saying, “Without any fear of contradiction or ever being proven wrong, I will tell you now, he did not engage in anything improper, much less illegal.”

The chief

Denham Springs ousted its police chief and his second-in-command in April, following an investigation into the department’s handling of a domestic abuse case involving a city councilman.

Former Chief Scott Jones and Capt. Steve Kistler were fired April 7, after a mayor-appointed investigative committee found that Kistler’s decision to issue Councilman Chris Davis a summons, rather than arrest him, violated department policy and state law.

Kistler has said there was no probable cause for an arrest after Davis’ wife told police her injury was an accident.

The ouster drove a wedge into a department already riddled with dissension and drew the city into a pair of lawsuits from the former officers, whose terminations were upheld by the city’s Civil Service Board.

The City Council appointed a new chief, Capt. J. Shannon Womack, on Dec. 14 but voted for a 90-day review in the middle of his six-month probationary period.

Davis cast the lone vote against Womack’s appointment.


Follow Heidi Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.