Water lapped at the heels of the Rev. Michael Galea, the still steady rain a constant reminder of Mother Nature’s unfinished business. Father Galea, pastor at Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant, La., estimated that as many as 90 percent of his parishioners had been affected in some way during the historic flooding that reached nearly every corner of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
“It’s going to change the whole dynamic of Holy Rosary as a parish as we know it,” Father Galea told The Catholic Commentator, the diocesan newspaper. “It’s not going to be the same. And we are going to lose quite a bit of people if they choose to move away.
“But hopefully, with love and compassion and a lot of hugs, we can become a family all over again.”
How to come together again as a community, parish or even over a family meal is a question many are asking in the wake of the rain—20 inches fell in as many hours—and floods that have devastated the region.
In Livingston Parish, a civil jurisdiction, at least 75 percent of residents suffered some type of water damage. Residents in East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Tangipahoa parishes also were forced to dig out.
As clean-up began, mountains of debris rose on residential streets. Many schools will be closed for weeks, and businesses will struggle to reopen. Curfews have been enacted in civil parishes throughout the area to diminish the threat of looting.
As many as 100,000 homes may have been damaged, with thousands fleeing to shelters. The floodwaters claimed 13 lives; many survived only after being rescued from rooftops, scenes reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago.
“We were in straight-up survival mode,” said Tim Hasenkampf, a Baton Rouge firefighter who lost his home in Port Vincent.
“It’s been tough,” added Hasenkampf. He and a friend had spent hours in their private boats rescuing people from homes.
According to Joe Ingraham, chief financial officer for the Baton Rouge Diocese, six churches took on water, and the parish schools at two of those were also damaged. Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, which opened in August, was inundated with four feet of water and has to relocate.
“It could have been worse, when you see four churches out of 71 severely damaged,” Ingraham said. “The worst thing is the damage to our parishioners and their homes.”
The storm, which began on Aug. 12, drove water into areas that had never experienced flooding before. Initially, torrential rains from the slow-moving system caused street flooding, which also forced water into homes. But the greater damage came in the days that followed as area rivers overflowed their banks into neighborhoods, businesses and even major thoroughfares.
Along I-12, some motorists were trapped in their cars for more than 30 hours, presenting a unique opportunity for ministry for the Rev. Jamin David, pastor at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Albany.
“We opened up our facilities to everyone,” Father David said. “It became a humanitarian effort. Really, it was the multiplication of the fishes.”
He said one stranded motorist was a caterer initially headed to Abita Springs, less than 40 miles from Albany. The caterer asked if she could use the parish’s stove to cook the food she had with her so it would not go to waste.
“We opened up the kitchen and fed about 500 people,” Father David said. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge has been responding to the unprecedented crisis and is accepting donations at www.ccdiobr.org.