The storm that battered south central and southwestern Louisiana in mid-August 2016 — it dropped as much as 30 inches of rain near Baton Rouge, more than 20 in and around Lafayette — didn’t even have a name. But it sure had a shelf life.
A contract crew this week continued repairs on a single-family residence in Breaux Bridge, apparently the last of more than 500 houses in Acadiana repaired through the tireless efforts of Rebuilding Together, Catholic Charities of Acadiana, the United Way and myriad other church and charitable agencies. Save for the efforts of nonprofits, survivors might have never been made whole in their own cherished homes.
A spokeswoman for Rebuilding Together — it now contracts disaster repairs under the umbrella of Catholic Charities of Acadiana — said the work may be done in time for the fourth anniversary of the storm, which dropped enough water on Louisiana to fill Lake Pontchartrain four times. Recovery is something to celebrate.
Church and charitable efforts were needed not only because of the storm’s fury but because of its peculiarities. The relentless floods might have been problem enough, but in many cases, rising water invaded neighborhoods located outside of recognized flood zones. Flooded rivers included the Amite, Vermilion, Calcasieu, Comite, Mermentau, Pearl, Tangipahoa, Tchefuncte, Tickfaw and Bogue Chitto. More than 145,000 homes were affected in Louisiana; many homeowners living outside flood zones were uninsured for the devastation.
For myriad faith-based volunteer groups that meant drying out and stabilizing homes until permanent help arrived. Volunteers numbered in the thousands. Some stayed awhile and returned, some gave what effort they could but were called elsewhere. Eventually, local stalwarts, like Catholic Charities and its affiliated allies, remained.
Among those allies was the Order of Malta, an ancient Catholic organization with a small chapter in Lafayette. It called upon its brother members around the country, many of whom made their way to rural Acadiana outposts where the impoverished needed home repairs the most. They participated in repairing 13 homes.
Paul David, of the Order of Malta, offered this insight of how long disaster recovery can take: He said the order’s volunteers completed their Hurricane Katrina rebuilding efforts in 2016, 11 years after the storm and flooding, just in time to turn their attention to flooded and forlorn homeowners in rural Acadiana.
“I don’t think people know how long it takes to recover,” said Margaret Trahan, former president and CEO of United Way of Acadiana and now director of stewardship for the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette. It takes time to assess the disaster. Then comes the long haul.
Catholic Charities, she said, was “the last man standing.” Five hundred homes stand, too. Volunteers might stand and bow.