Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The May Flood

Ten years ago today, it rained. And rained. And rained. And rained. Thousands
lost their homes. Many more lost their cars. Despite millions spent since then
on drainage projects, in some ways the area is as vulnerable as ever.

"The May Flood," as its simply known to the people of the New Orleans area, was an amazing event. A decade ago, on May8-9, 1995 some 25 inches of rain fell on the New Orleans area. At some points, rain was falling at the rate of 3 inches an hour. Now, if you know anything about rain, you know 3 inches a day is a lot. So 3 inches an hour is quite extraordinary. Some cities saw 30 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. The floods that resulted caused more than $584 million in damages (not counting car damages - which, trust me, was a lot). Some 56,000 homes were flooded and more than 31,000 insurance claims were filed - the most ever for a flood.

I was in 5th grade when this happened. Thank God our home didn't flood (and neither did either of our cars), since our house is on relatively high ground. But less than two blocks away from our house in Slidell, a number of families had to be rescued by the Louisiana National Guard from their one-story houses.

Literally the only way to get around the New Orleans area for several days was by boat. Thankfully, lots of people had them. My brothers, along with the sons of our neighbors, went out on their canoe the morning of the flood to help the people several blocks away. Their canoe trip was caught on video from a local TV station, which was also a CNN affiliate and so less than two hours later, their trip was broadcast in part on CNN Headline News.

If there's one thing I remember from the flood, it's ruined carpet. For more than two weeks, anywhere you drove in the New Orleans area you'd see mounds of ruined carpet out in people's front yards waiting to be picked up by the garbage trucks. There was also lots of ruined sofas, couches, etc. I'd say about 2/3 of Slidellians had flooded homes. I knew some families whose damage was so bad they stayed in hotels for more than a month.

School was out for more than a week. When we did get back, all of the classrooms had had their carpets ripped out and industrial fans were brought in to clear the water that was still on the ground. To our great joy, the fans were so loud that we often couldn't hear what our teachers were saying.

One other thing I remember from the flood: We never lost power. In fact, the first morning of the flood, I remember watching the video of The Sandlot (BTW, did you know they made a Sandlot 2. Why mess with perfection, people?) on our TV. I'm spoiled coming from Louisiana and its very sturdy electrical system and reliable company to the pathetic excuse DCers have for an electrical company in Pepco. College Park loses power if it drizzles and then it takes 3 days to come back on. In Louisiana, we hardly ever lose it and, when we do, it's back on within 6 hours.