Sign in to comment!

Fox News Weather Center

'They were the angels that came to save me:' Katrina victims rush to aid of flood-traumatized Baton Rouge residents

Wrung-out old high school sweatshirts. Warped cabinetry still damp from sitting in puddles. Piles and piles of stained carpet, laminate flooring and sheetrock lining the streets of neighborhoods, all torn out from the homes that sit just yards away.

That's the reality for thousands of families in Louisiana this month after their homes were flooded following downpours that lasted days.

"It's very much like being forced to move immediately, and you didn't want to, and everything is covered in water," Suzanne Raether, one of the victims of the flood, said.

Raether is just one of many Baton Rouge residents whose longtime home was destroyed by the floods. Her parents' house had to be gutted, all the way down to the sheetrock. What's left is an empty shell of lumber and framing, still damp and waiting for the fungicide to dry out.

"There are 40 plus years of life in that house," Raether said. "It's all of your memories; it's everything you know."

As the flood waters slowly flowed out of the neighborhoods, countless friends, family and volunteers flowed in to help with the cleanup. Donations and people poured in from across the country, especially from New Orleans.

"We learned here after Hurricane Katrina that the loss of everything... can be very traumatizing for people," said Pastor Dennis Watson of Celebrations Church.

Celebrations Church is a New Orleans' congregation that spans six campuses and boasts around 7,000 members. The church has coordinated multiple efforts to send volunteers and supplies up to Baton Rouge to assist with the relief effort.

Leaders of the Church said they have sent about 100 volunteers to the flooded areas in the last two weeks to help with the demolition and cleanup. Watson said in the first week following the flood, Celebrations collected about $25,000 in donations from around the country.

The floods in Baton Rouge are reminiscent of the destruction New Orleans residents suffered at the hands of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While the devastation of New Orleans was much greater than Baton Rouge, there are still similarities.

"We've got people saying we've got to give back and help them even as they helped us after Hurricane Katrina," Watson said.

"Most people are overwhelmed," said Ricky Murphy, disaster relief assessment coordinator at Celebrations. "When you come in and offer them your assistance like that, it brings a smile, and it brings hope."

Further complicating cleanup, many of the affected areas are not considered flood zones, and thus, most homeowners didn't have flood insurance.

"Where [my parents live] in Ascension Parish has never flooded in the history of the parish," Raether said. "It's the place everybody evacuates to."

"There's absolutely no reason to have flood insurance in those areas; it's a waste of money, and it's completely heartbreaking."

The amount of trauma the area faced left many volunteers and victims alike in a state of disbelief.

"Someone sent me a photograph of a small church I was familiar with, and it had a water line probably about 4 feet up the door," Murphy said, adding that he thought the photo was altered.

The damaged neighborhoods no longer hold houses, but instead skeletons of what used to be homes. Many houses are gutted, many of them from floor to ceiling.

"In some cases, if you get a foot of water, you might as well have gotten 3 feet of water," Murphy said. "You have to gut up a house up to 4 feet for low water like that."

"I'm building my mama a new house," Raether said. "That's all there is to it."

While the destroyed homes have left flood victims displaced and without most of their possessions, there is one main constant that seems to remain: hope.

"I'm amazed at the human spirit and the resiliency of individuals," Watson said.

"I think many of [the Baton Rouge victims] participated in the relief and the recovery and the rebuilding of Katrina... so they've seen that people can bounce back, come back, even from the most devastating of losses."

Other residents of the area expressed their tremendous gratitude toward the volunteers who came to help.

"They were the angels that came to save me," one woman said.

While strangers didn't hesitate to join in with the relief efforts, neither did friends and family.

"My phone was blowing up with 'How can I help? When are we going up? What's happening? What do you need? I can be here at this time.' That's the beautiful thing about our culture," Raether said.

"To see people drop their lives and understand exactly that it's not the same story [as Katrina], it's not the same thing, but it is the same damage, it's the same hurt, and to be able to drop everything and love, that's incredible, and that's who we are," Raether said.