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Hello, hurricane season: We've been here before

Eleanor Keller

Eleanor Keller

Last week my sister and I spent some time bonding while we cleaned out our flooded childhood home. The town of Lutcher in the the River Parishes about 38 miles up-river from New Orleans had gotten 20-plus inches of rain in three days during the previous week.

My 93-year-old mother’s house gulped down about 8 inches of it. It wasn’t enough to destroy the 58-year-old house, but it was enough to make life miserable for those of us who will be spending a good portion of hurricane season ripping out drywall and flooring and cleaning up wet furniture before we even get a named storm.

We know the drill. We can do this stuff in our sleep. It’s the awake part that wears us out.

While we sopped and mopped we reminisced about past storms in this house.

We found no less than a dozen sets of rosary beads scattered in drawers throughout the house. This reminded us of Hurricane Betsy. We had 11 people besides our family of four staying with us during that epic storm in 1965.

The grandmothers and aunts were camped out in the living room with blessed candles flaring. The louder the wind blew, the louder their Hail Mary’s resounded as they recited the rosary.

If the storm didn’t scare us, their frantic prayers did.

Betsy was the first time I ever heard the terrifying sound of a tornado. My dad and I were outside in our carport, protected from the wind by a portion of the house.

My parents had just finished (two weeks earlier) a large renovation of the house, which enlarged the kitchen and added a den and bathroom. I can only imagine what went through my dad’s mind when we heard the roar of jet engines bearing down on us. My dad’s frantic, “Get in the house. Now!” struck panic in my heart.

I was only 14 and didn’t hear that sound again for another 30 years, while living through a midwestern, tornado-ridden thunderstorm one spring. I live near train tracks and I can tell you, tornados sound nothing like trains.

The house stayed dry in Betsy except for some dampness that seeped through weep holes in the foundation. We had no electricity (or school) for a week. I remember trucks bringing in bottled water for the community.

Having survived Betsy unscathed in that house, it was a no-brainer as to where we would ride out Katrina. While my own home in Old Metairie took on 5 feet of water, the old house in Lutcher remained high and dry again.

Trees were crashing down onto houses or up-rooting and taking foundations with them all over the neighborhood, but my mom never let anything grow higher than 8 feet in her yard, so we were fine.

So, in light of this recent rain event, which put 8 inches of water in our childhood home and flooded more than 100 houses in the St. James Parish area, I think it is safe to say that something is drastically wrong. And we now have no place to run to higher ground.

There is no more higher ground.

Despite what public officials want you to believe about rain, storms and flooding, we all know that once you go under water, you will probably continue to go under water unless something huge and drastic is done.

At this writing, nothing huge or drastic, not even a levee, is being planned for St James Parish ... and people living there are getting fired up about it.

In the meantime, my extended family is looking for higher ground this hurricane season, for four adults, three grown children, seven cats and one dog ... as far inland as our caravan of cars and the sensitive nerves of the dog will carry us.